Onomatopoeia is a word that imitates the sound
also imitative harmony
splash, wow, gush, kerplunk
Such devices bring out the full flavor of words. Comparison and association are sometimes strengthened by syllables which imitate or reproduce the sounds they describe. When this occurs, it is called onomatopoeia (a Greek word meaning name-making "), for the sounds literally make the meaning in such words as "buzz," "crash," "whirr," "clang" "hiss," "purr," "squeak," "mumble," "hush," "boom." Poe lets us hear the different kinds of sounds made by different types of bells in his famous poem "The Bells." His choice of the right word gives us the right sound when he speaks of "tinkling" sleigh bells; "clanging" fire bells; mellow "chiming" wedding bells; "tolling," "moaning," and "groaning" funeral bells.
Tennyson makes us feel the heaviness of a drowsy summer day by using a series of "in" sounds in the wonderfully weighted lines:
Countless examples of association of ideas and imitation of sounds may be found in this volume. Two of the most striking and dramatic are Vachel Lindsay's "The Congo" and G. K. Chesterton's "Lepanto". No poems written in our time are richer in vivid colors, galloping rhythms, and constantly varying sound effects.
Return to Literary Term Page