Study Guide

Demeter's Prayer to Hades Sound Check

By Rita Dove

Sound Check

This is not a poem with too many sonic tricks or poetic devices, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have a sound. Just read the following aloud, for some examples:

To understand each desire has an edge,
To know we are responsible for the lives
(2-3)

Notice anything? Both lines begin with "To," followed by a verb. That's anaphora, the repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of a line. Dove uses anaphora when she really wants to emphasize the lines. Here, Demeter is being pretty stern, so she repeats herself to make sure that Hades gets the picture.

Still, that's not the only trick Dove has up her sleeve. She also uses alliteration, or the repetition of beginning consonant sounds in words. Check out the following two lines:

There are no curses—only mirrors
held up to the souls of gods and mortals.
(11-12)

The echo of the M sound in "mirrors" and "mortals" creates a rhythm to these lines, even though they don't rhyme.

Add to this sonic mix a few end stops (check out lines 1, 5, 10, 12, 13, or 15) and you start to realize that the sound at work in this poem mainly serves to punctuate a point or draw our attention as readers. It's not something that Dove hits us over the head with, but it does remind us that we're reading an angry address (not really a prayer, after all), from one mother to the man who has done her (or worse, her daughter) wrong. The sound effects here remind the reader to listen up to what she's got to say.

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