Everyone knows about rhyme. But what about other sound devices—like the sounds of words. The poet Mary Oliver points out the differences in the phrases “Hush,” “Please be quiet!” and “Shut up!” The first word is gentle. It fizzles out and disappears into the quiet. The second phrase is more abrupt. It employs the use of mutes (consonants that cannot be sounded without a vowel and that end a syllable with a sudden stop of breath). The third phrase stops the sound immediately with the two mutes: t and p. The sound fits the meaning: it’s definitive, sudden, commanding. A slammed door. Shut up!
One of my favorite sound-sensitive poems is Gerard Manly Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur,” which follows below. It’s also interesting to hear the poet Karen Volkman read the poem. Volkman’s voice is expressionless and her pace quick, almost making the poem a kind tongue-twister. Yet the beauty of Hopkins’ musical lines still shines through.