Does the poem "Mother to Son" contain any rhyme or alliteration?

Quick answer:

The poem "Mother to Son" is not strongly characterized by alliteration or rhyme. Arguably, "stair" rhymes with "bare" several lines later, and there is some alliteration: for example, with "Bare / But" and "boy, don't you turn back."

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

While the other Educator is correct in saying there is no alliteration in “Mother to Son,” one could argue that Hughes uses internal rhyme in the poem.

Internal rhyme is defined as when two or more words within a single line of poetry rhyme with each other. In...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

contrast to end rhyme, internal rhyme has a less sing-song effect because it is often more subtle.

The following line contains internal rhyme:

“Well, son, I’ll tell you” (Line 1).

In this line, the words "well" and "tell" are complete rhymes. However, it is easy to overlook as a reader because the diction and syntax mimic everyday speech. Even so, this is an example of internal rhyme. One might even suggest that the internal rhyme is unintentional, since beginning sentences with “well” is a colloquialism in African American Vernacular English.

Overall, Hughes doesn’t rely on common sound devices that could take away from the message of his poem. He uses plenty of assonance throughout the poem, with the repetition of the long “i” sound in several lines, but alliteration and rhyme are not important in this particular poem.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Langston Hughes' poem "Mother to Son" contains no rhyme or alliteration. In fact, Hughes deliberately avoids such "prettifying" devices as pleasant rhyme schemes or alliterative devices to underscore how hard the narrator's life has been. The jagged, unrhymed cadences of the poem speak to the jagged lack of beauty in the mother's life. The language is hard, blunt and direct. The mother has lived a life that doesn't rhyme. It has been filled with "tacks" and "splinters" and "boards torn up." As she repeats twice, life for her "ain't been no crystal stair." Instead, she has struggled. At the same time, while life has been hard for her, she encourages her son to keep on going, as she does. "Don't you sit down on the steps" she says, just because life is rough. "Ise still goin'," she tells him. Her unvarnished description of the truth of how life really is becomes an inspiration to the poet that no pretty rhyme could match. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Is there any rhyme or alliteration in the poem "Mother to Son"?

Yes, there is some alliteration in this poem. For example, there is alliteration in "Bare / But all the time," and later in the poem, we find "boy, don't you turn back," with further alliteration on the letter b. However, alliteration is not one of the primary characteristics of this poem.

Because of this, we might question why the alliteration should be on the letter b. I would suggest that b is a very bold and strong sound, which is aligned with the tone of the poem. The poem is all about striving, perseverance, and being bold, which is reflected in the sounds of "boy," "back," "been."

In terms of rhyme, if there is any rhyme in the poem, then it is subject to interpretation. Arguably, "stair" rhymes with "bare" several lines later, but this is likely not a deliberate placement of two rhyming words in adjacent lines. The poem itself does not have a rhyme scheme.

Instead of rhyme, it is repetition which gives the poem a sense of unity and cohesion. Hughes starts multiple lines with the word "and," which has a cumulative effect, underscoring the fact that the striving of the mother to ascend the difficult staircase has been ongoing and continuous. The struggles heap upon previous struggles. However, despite this, the mother continues. She moves boldly onwards and she asks her son to do the same, promising that if she can do it, he also can.

Last Updated on