Euphony is a literary device that refers to the musical, or pleasing, qualities of words.
This sometimes means solitary words but usually refers to words in combination. The device can be found in all forms of literature but has the biggest impact when it is utilized in poetry.
These specific words sound pleasing to the ear for several different reasons. They usually include a certain soft kind of consonants, such as L, M, and N, and sometimes make use of subtle half-rhymes or stronger full rhymes. These aspects, and others, are used to create euphony.
The word is derived from the Greek “euophonos” meaning “sweet sound” or “sweet-voiced”. Its opposite is the word cacophony which refers to words that sound harsh or unpleasant to the ear.
Explore the literary device 'Euphony'
Elements of Euphony
As mentioned above, there are several different ways that a writer can create euphony in their prose or verse. These tools include:
- Rhythm: It is one of the most important devices that a writer can employ in their verse. It refers to the way that words flow together, the location of the stresses (the long and short syllables), and the length of the lines. Does the writer use enjambment? Or are the lines end-stopped?
- Rhyme: Right alongside rhythm, rhyme is quite important. It refers to the repetition of sounds in closely placed words. These might fall within the same line or a couple of lines apart. There are different types of rhyme, such as half-rhyme, internal rhyme, exact rhyme, and full rhyme that make a difference when writing.
- Assonance and Consonance: These two devices are directly connected to rhyme. They occur when either vowel sounds or consonant sounds are repeated close to one another. For instance, the long “i” sound in “I went to lie by her side” is an example of assonance. The hard “k” sound in “Ken kicked the kickball” is an example of consonance (and alliteration).
- Repetition: This is another way to help create euphonic sentences. It occurs when words are used multiple times or even entire phrases. The repetition of the sounds contributes to a musical feeling line of verse.
Is it Euphony?
Although there are different ways of explaining what a euphonic sentence, word, or line of the verse sounds like, it is not an exact science. For some, the softer consonants might not sound as “pleasing” as they do to others. Sibilance, rhyme, rhythm, and all manner of figurative language might to one reader sound lovely but to another might make no impact whatsoever. What does help for your own judgment of euphony, is to read the word or words out loud. Trust your own opinion of what words sound like.
One of the best examples of the subjective nature of this literary device is the euphonic phrase “cellar door”. This is commonly cited as being the most euphonic phrase in the English language. But why? The meaning of the words is unimportant in this instance, in fact, it should become more musical the more distant you get from the denotive meaning of the words. Alternative spellings can be helpful in this task. Consider reading it as “Selladore” or “Selador”.
Why is Euphony Important?
Writers use euphony in order to make their words flow and sound more beautiful together. It is a wonderful device for poets, but also for prose and drama writers. Phrases will become more memorable, more musical, and more appealing. If a reader enjoys the way that words sound together, they are more likely to enjoy the text itself. They will be more likely to return to the poem or story and continue reading or even read it again.
Examples of Euphony in Literature
This sonnet is one of Shakespeare’s best known. Its opening line, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” is one of his most commonly quoted. Although memorable in regards to its content, the line, and those which follow it, are impactful because of the musical nature of their sounds. Take a look at the first quatrain of the sonnet:
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
When considering the euphonic impact of the lines, remember to look for rhyme, rhythm, figurative language, and the types of consonants used. Shakespeare sued what is known as iambic pentameter in his sonnets as well as a very steady rhyme scheme. These two things, in addition to the consonants in words like “Shall,” “compare,” “summer’s” and “more” make these lines pleasing to the ear.
Example #2 The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe
Poe’s best-known poem, and his poetic masterpiece, ‘The Raven,’ is another great example of euphony. It contrasts with one of the main principles of the device though, that it is most effective when used to describe something beautiful. In ‘The Raven,’ the subject matter is far from beautiful but, the sound of the words makes it more so. Throughout the poem, Poe uses half-rhymes, a steady pattern of full rhymes, and a consistent rhyme. There is a repetition of assonance and consonance throughout as well as a more general repetition of words and phrases such as “Lenore” and “Nevermore”.