Alliteration is a literary device where two or more words in a phrase or line of poetry share the same beginning consonant sound. The words may be adjacent or separated by one or more words.
One of the primary purposes of alliteration is to emphasize something important that the writer or speaker would like to highlight.
Get ready to enjoy these alliteration examples in literature; you’ll see that the writer’s intentions all but leap off the page. Once you’re familiar with this type of figurative language you can incorporate little bits and pieces into your own writing, too.
From Milton to Tennyson, some of the greatest poets have relied upon this alliterative literary tool from time to time. There’s no doubt it adds rhythm, color and beauty to their verse.
Deep into that darkness peering, Long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before
- “The Raven,” Edgar Allan Poe
Closed my lids, and kept them close,
And the balls like pulses beat;
For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky
Lay like a load on my weary eye,
And the dead were at my feet.
- “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Behemoth biggest born of earth upheaved
His vastness: Fleeced the flocks and bleating rose,
As plants: Ambiguous between sea and land
The river-horse, and scaly crocodile.
- “Paradise Lost,” John Milton
I leave the plain, I climb the height;
No branchy thicket shelter yields;
But blessed forms in whistling storms
Fly o'er waste fens and windy fields.
- “Sir Galahad,” Alfred Tennyson
But on a May morning on Malvern hills,
A marvel befell me, of fairy, methought.
I was weary with wandering and went me to rest Under a broad bank by a brook’s side,
And as I lay and leaned over and looked into the waters
I fell into a sleep, for it sounded so merry."
- “Piers Plowman,” William Langland (modern translation)
The Soul selects her own Society—
Then — shuts the Door —
- “The Soul selects her own Society (303),” Emily Dickinson
Of course, poetry has a rhythmic flow to it that’s graceful and elegant. However, prose lends itself very well to alliteration, too. When a writer is trying to evoke a strong feeling or express a tender sentiment, there’s no doubt alliteration is one way to carry that message to the reader. Enjoy these stirring samples from classic literature:
Up the aisle, the moans and screams merged with the sickening smell of woolen black clothes worn in summer weather and green leaves wilting over yellow flowers.
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
“But four hours later the fish was still swimming steadily out to sea, towing the skiff, and the old man was still braced solidly with the line across his back.”
- The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes; A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life.
- Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
"Gee, Great Aunt Nellie, why aren't any golden goldfinches going to the goodies?" "Oh," said Aunt Nellie, "They thrive on thistle and I thoroughly thought that I threw the thistle out there."
- Thank You for the Thistle, Dorie Thurston
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
- The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
- The Dead, James Joyce
"My father brought to conversations a cavernous capacity for caring that dismayed strangers."
- The Centaur, John Updike
...the first unknown phantom in the other world; - neither of these can feel stranger and stronger emotions than that man does, who for the first time finds himself pulling into the charmed, churned circle of the hunted Sperm Whale.
- Moby Dick, Herman Melville
"... his appearance: something displeasing, something down-right detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked and yet I scarce know why. He must be deformed somewhere ..."
- The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson
A moist young moon hung above the mist of a neighboring meadow.
- Conclusive Evidence, Vladimir Nabokov
"[S]he had no room for gaiety and ease. She had spent the golden time in grudging its going."
- The Lovely Leave, Dorothy Parker
"The sibilant sermons of the snake as she discoursed upon the disposition of my sinner's soul seemed ceaseless."
- The Gargoyle, Gregory Kirschling
Alliteration is an effective style of writing that adds drama. The repetition makes it catchy enough to jump off the page and stick in the reader’s mind. For more practice, check out the master of alliteration, William Shakespeare, in Alliteration Examples in Romeo and Juliet. We hope all these examples of alliteration in literature will provide ample inspiration to help you get started with this literary tool today!