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Alliteration Defined

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Allitera′tion, the repetition of the same letter at the beginning of two or more words immediately succeeding each other, or at short intervals; as "many menmany minds"; "death defies the doctor". "Apt alliteration's artful aid" (Churchill). "Puffs, powders, patches, bibles, billet-doux" (Pope). "Weave the warp andweave the woof" (Gray). In the ancient German and Scandinavian and in early English poetry alliteration took the place of terminal rhymes, the alliterative syllables being made to recur with a certain regularity in the same position in successive verses. In the Vision of William Concerning Piers the Ploughman, for instance, it is regularly employed as in the following lines:—

Hire robe was ful riche . of red scarlet engreyned,

With ribanes of red gold . and of riche stones;

Hire arraye me ravysshed . such ricchesse saw I nevere;

I had wondre what she was . and whas wyf she were.

Alliteration was known to the Latin authors: "O Tite tute, Tati, tibi tanta, tyranne tulisti" (Ennius). In the hands of some English poets and prose writers of later times alliteration became a mere conceit. It is still employed in Icelandic and Finnish poetry. So far has alliteration sometimes been carried that long compositions have been written every word of which commenced with the same letter. It may also be employed in the middle of words: "Un frais parfum sortait des touffes d'asfodile" (Victor Hugo).

 


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