Sound Check

In this elegy, the speaker takes us on surreal journey through his father's seemingly awesome life. As we discuss over in "Form and Meter," the singsong rhythm of a lot of the poem gives us the feeling of marching forward with the speaker's father as he boldly deals with all the craziness of life like a champ. Cummings pulls out all the stops here, opening his poetic toolkit to sometimes smooth the ride and sometimes jolt us just when he wants us to wake up and see the scenery.

Our ears perk up right from the start of this poem. The very first line is a great example of assonance (repeated vowel sounds within words). Read them out loud and see if you can hear it: "my father moved through dooms of love" (1-2). You heard it, right? We've got the "ooh" sound in "moved," "through," and "dooms." The speaker uses this "my father moved through" thing throughout the poem. The repetition of this assonance-laden phrase helps move us smoothly through the poem, giving the whole thing a sense of momentum and helping to bind the pieces together sonically (while also making us think of cows—moooooo).

The poem is also chock full of alliteration (repeated consonant sounds at the beginning of words). One good example is "drove sleeping selves to swarm their fates" (11). You probably didn't even have to say that one out loud to hear the repeated S sounds in "sleeping," "selves," and "swarm." In a bit of consonance, notice how the line also ends with an S sound with "fates." (This Cummings guy sure is sneaky.) Another great example of alliteration is "maggoty minus and dumb death" (63). Notice how the repeated consonant sound hammers home the dark and graphic imagery of the lines.

These techniques pop up throughout the poem, if you turn an attentive ear. In each case, the sounds of the poem bind the ideas together and add a punch to the content that catches our attention. Hear what we're saying? (Yeah… sorry about that one.)

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