Friday, 22 January 2010

Metaphors and Alliteration

Metaphors and alliteration are two quite different figures of speech. Metaphors compare one thing to another by saying something IS something else or DOES something else (as opposed to a simile, where the words LIKE or AS are used in the comparison). Alliteration, on the other hand, is the use of the same consonant at the beginning of words in the same sentence or phrase as each other, sometimes to create a particular mood or atmosphere.


Shakespeare uses metaphors in “Romeo and Juliet” when Romeo is expressing his idea of love:

'Love is a smoke rais'd with the fume of sighs;

Being purg'd, a fire sparkling in lovers' eyes;

Being vex'd, a sea nourish'd with loving tears.

What is it else? A madness most discreet,

A choking gall, and a preserving sweet.'

Romeo conjures up these images of love in Act One Scene I, expressing his frustration that Rosaline does not return the love he feels for her. All this is soon forgotten when he sets eyes on Juliet, and he first speaks to her in Act One Scene V. He compares his love for her to the idea of worshipping at a holy shrine, and sees his lips as pilgrims as he is about to kiss Juliet's hand:

'My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand

To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.”


Alliteration is used to striking effect by Gerard Manley Hopkins in his poem 'Inversnaid', in which he describes a Scottish burn, or river, splashing down from a height to a lake below:

'In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam

Flutes and low to the lake falls home.'

He skilfully fits three alliterative phrases into two lines of poetry here, using the c, f and l sounds, the latter two intertwining.

In the fourth and final stanza Hopkins uses alliteration with the consonant w in each of the four lines:

'What would the world be, once bereft

Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,

O let them be left, wildness and wet;

Long live the weed and the wilderness yet.'

The subtle shifts from wildness to wilderness and wet to weed are particularly effective. Notice the additional alliterative phrases intervening: 'Let them be left,' and 'Long live.'

Other poems that make extensive use of alliteration are Walt Whitman's 'Patrolling Barnegat' and Seamus Heaney's 'Death of a Naturalist'.

There are several other figures of speech used by poets and authors, including assonance, simile, contrast, onomatopoeia and personification. A writer can bring his work alive by creating vivid images to convey his ideas and describe his experiences.

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