"While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping." Identify the effect of the alliteration in this passage from "The Raven."      

Expert Answers
rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Alliteration is the repetition of initial consonant sounds in words that are close to each other in the text. Here the words "nodded, nearly napping" all begin with the /n/ sound, and the three words occur in sequence. The alliteration ties the three words together by their first sound. The /n/ sound is a soft, smooth sound; it is a nasal consonant. To make the /n/ sound, air is stopped from coming out of the mouth because of where the tongue is placed and is forced to come out of the nose. Interestingly, this sound is the same sound that someone might make inadvertently while sleeping--a deep breathing sound that is not quite a snore. So using the repeated /n/ sound to describe someone who is about to fall asleep helps the reader experience that state simply through the sounds of the words. In addition, the fact that the three words have identical rhythm--a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable--reinforces the effect. One can almost feel the sensation of the man's head starting to droop and the man catching it with each new stressed /n/ syllable. The use of alliteration and rhythm in this way helps the reader enter into the mood and action of the poem.