Arts & Culture

Onomatopoeia: Poetic Devices

As the school year continues to progress, I’m sure that all of you are starting to master the basics of your classes and get into a routine with your work.  So, in the spirit of learning, I’d like to introduce a few poetic devices!

Alliteration refers to the words in a line of poetry that have the same starting sound. Take Edgar Allen Poe’s, “The Raven” for an example.


Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping…


In the first line Poe uses the sound of “wh” three times, while the second and third use “c” and “n” multiple times which helps the line flow nicely and with meter.  But be careful because alliteration is frequently confused with assonance.  Alliteration has to do with the first letter of a word while assonance refers to any letter within the word.

The next device is onomatopoeia.  It is a complex looking word, but it actually has a very simple meaning.  Any word that sounds like the thing it is describing is onomatopoeia. For example, the actual words “moo,” “meow,” “chirp,” etc. all sound like the noise the animals make.  This applies to any other word’s pronunciation that sounds like the noise it is representing. Other words like these are “bang,” “crash,” “smack,” “ding,” and “chuckle.” Edgar Allan Poe has another great poem that is a prime example of onomatopoeia.


The Bells (excerpt)

Hear the loud alarum bells—

Brazen bells!

What tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!

In the startled ear of night

How they scream out their affright!

Too much horrified to speak,

They can only shriek, shriek,

Out of tune


How they clang, and clash, and roar!

What a horror they outpour

On the bosom of the palpitating air!

Yet the ear it fully knows,

By the twanging,

And the clanging,

How the danger ebbs and flows;

Yet the ear distinctly tells,

In the jangling,

And the wrangling.

How the danger sinks and swells,

By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells—

Of the bells—

Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,

Bells, bells, bells—

In the clamor and the clangor of the bells!


Poe uses words such as “shriek,” “clang,” and “jangling.”  But the way he uses the word “bells” at the end, even though “bells” itself is not considered an onomatopoeia word, makes it sound as though the bells are actually clanging.

The final poetic device I wish to define is enjambment.  It is derived from the French word enjambment, which means to step over or across, and is spelled the same.  In a similar fashion, enjambment in poetry means to continue through lines and stanzas without terminal punctuation.  Rather than the readers pausing after each end-stop of a line or stanza they naturally read it with less pauses, giving the rhythm and meter a different feel.  Enjambment doesn’t mean that the entire poem is devoid of end punctuation. Commas, hyphens, and semicolons are very typical. Below is an example from a poem by William Wordsworth.


It is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free (excerpt)

It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,

The holy time is quiet as a Nun

Breathless with adoration; the broad sun

Is sinking down in its tranquility;

The gentleness of heaven broods o’er the Sea;


Hopefully you have been inspired with this new knowledge of poetic devices and feel more comfortable writing your own poetry.  I encourage you all to try to write a poem or two this month using one, or more, of these devices.  It might seem a little daunting at first to write with a specific meter or rhyme scheme in mind, but practice makes perfect!

Works cited:

“The 20 Poetic Devices You Must Know.”  Prep Scholar. 18, 2019.

“The Raven.”  Poetry Foundation. 18, 2019.

“The Bells.” 18, 2019.

“Enjambment.”  “Definition of Enjambment.”  Literary Devices. 18, 2019.

“It is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free.”  Poetry Foundation. 18, 2019.



  1. Wow! Once again, GREAT job! I love poetery!

  2. Great job, Emma!! This really helped me understand different poetic devices better. Thank you!!!