The New Student's Reference Work/Alliteration

Al'litera'tion is the frequent recurrence, met with often in English poetry and occasionally in prose composition, of the same letter or sound at the beginning of recurring words. "Alliteration's artful aid" is a familiar example. Instances of it are often met with in the Elizabethan writers and in those of early Anglo-Saxon times, chiefly in the poets. Examples are occasionally found in prose, where, when skilfully used and combined with assonance, alliteration heightens the effect of what is written or said; but its use, in both prose and verse, is often more of a trick in a writer, and should therefore be sparingly indulged in. In Shakespeare it is often met with, as in the phrase occurring in the song in The Tempest, "full fathom five thy father lies"; it is also frequently found in Spenser, and in Langland's Piers Plowman, as well as in the modern German writers, such as Goethe and Heine, where it is occasionally used with pleasing effect. Fine examples are also to be found in Tennyson and Swinburne. Among other modern English authors Coleridge, moreover, uses it as an embellishment of his verse, thus:

          "The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
               The furrow followed free."

How much the use of alliteration is the mere trick of a writer may be seen in the couplet:

          "Cossack commanders cannonading come,
          Dealing destruction's devastating doom."

Much of alliteration's use will moreover be familiar to many in the proverbs and phrases in current speech, as in "life and limb," "out of house and home," "the bonnie bairn," "with peril and pain," "warring words," "the scum of the streets," "a vile varlet," "a dainty dame," "zeal, zest," "a rascally rogue," "the merry month of May," etc. See Guest's English Rhythms.