Alliteration is the repetition of the same initial sound in words of close proximity.


The Jelling cup

It is an important element of the English literary tradition, first appearing in Old English verse, in which the first three of a line’s four stressed syllables were alliterated.  Here is an approximate example from Seamus Heaney’s translation of ‘Beowulf’:


‘The cup was carried to him, kind words

spoken in welcome and a wealth of wrought gold

graciously bestowed, ….’



You may be interested to read Tennyson’s riddle ‘The Eagle’, which has four stressed syllables to the line.  The first line fully observes the Old English alliterative tradition.

The Eagle


He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.


You might also like to consider the use of rhyme, assonance and consonance in these lines.

See other literary terms


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