Assonance is a kind of rhyme made of vowel sounds. Poetry makes music from assonance as often as from alliteration. Read any good poem aloud and hear the assonance sing. Listen for echoes, not just at line-endings but anywhere in a poem. Poetry uses ‘w’ and ‘y’ for assonance as well as the long, short and combined sounds that the 5 vowels make.

‘O,wild west wind, thou breath of autumn’s being’

wrote the poet Shelley nearly 200 years ago. You can hear the west wind in the words, especially in the first 5 words.

There are words made of nothing but vowel sounds: Where, why, away, oh, woe, you, I, we, ah! Actually, with a bit of punctuation and some dramatic expression you could make a poem out of just those 9 words.

In a poem I wrote about the poor a hundred years ago breaking stones to sell to road builders, I repeat one main assonant sound: the long ‘o’ of ‘bones’, because ‘o’ is full of sorrow. I add a long ‘a’ in ‘aching’ and ‘breaking’, and short clicky sounds in ‘picking’, ‘swishing’, ‘tarmac, ‘track’., and much more, for these are the games poets play.

Breaking Stones

Out in the dusk
day after day
breaking stones,
summer and winter,
aching bones.

Nothing but dirt tracks,
nothing but muddy ruts
for a horse and cart,
till they smashed stones
to smithereens.

Under the country lanes
where we dawdle in summer
picking blackberries,
swishing at nettles with sticks,
are their broken stones.

Under the tarmac of every road,
every motorway,
lie the old tracks
and the stones they broke,
the stones they sold.

Winter and summer
stones for bread,
and bread for stones,
till their old bones ached
from breaking stones.