The poet’s medium, or means of expression, is words. The painter works with color, the sculptor with form, the musician with tone. Color and form and tone are pleasurable in themselves, as sensations; they become beautiful and significant by force of what they may be made to express. So words in themselves also have a sensuous value. When used as instruments of beauty, they may add to the rhythmic structure of a poem the element of melody. This tonal quality is secured most easily and obviously by rhyme, which is perfect concord of vowel sounds together with the consonants following to complete the syllable, as in sight, night. Besides adding musical value to the phrase, rhyme, when adroitly managed, serves to define the pattern of the poem and to emphasize the meaning of the words in which it falls. Lesser components of the melodic element are assonance, alliteration, and tone-color. Assonance is the repetition of the same vowel sound within syllables, but with different consonants, as shape, mate. Alliteration is the agreement in sound of initial syllables, as in “The lisp of leaves and the ripple of rain.” Alliteration, combined with stress, is the essential verse-principle of Anglo-Saxon poetry; it is used to-day at the risk of obscuring the sense by overloading the ornament. The melodic quality of tone-color is more subtle; it is the suggestion of the meaning of the words by the tonal quality and value of their syllables, as in “Sweet dimness of her loosened hair’s downfall,” where the slow change in vowel quality. . . . . . seems to invest the image with a kind of “penumbra” of sound. These are the notes of the poet’s gamut; the master craftsman employs them with a just reticence to enhance the sensuous appeal of his art.

But poetry is not only emotional and sensuous in its appeal. By virtue of its medium of words, it is adapted—to an extent that the arts of painting, sculpture, and music are not—to the expression of intellectual ideas. It gains in potency, however, in the measure that it phrases these ideas not in abstract terms but concretely. Words are not color or form, but they can suggest it by means of images. Emotion always has an object, which calls it out and represents it. The image in the word becomes the expression of the poet’s own feeling; and it is also the symbol and occasion to others of a like emotion. How much Wordsworth’s apostrophe to Duty gains in persuasion by the beauty of suggested images! So the idea embodies itself and becomes warm and vivid, rousing the hearer’s imagination to vision and kindling him to emotion. This evocative power of words is the secret of the poet, and is hardly to be analyzed. It attaches to the tonal beauty of their syllables, in themselves and in rhythmic combination; it derives from their vividness of image, and from the associations, both intellectual and emotional, which cling around them like an aroma and an exhalation. Bright Star! would I were steadfast as thou art:—

Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night,

And watching, with eternal lids apart,

Like Nature’s patient sleepless Eremite,

The moving waters at their priestlike task

Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores.〖Keats, H.C., xli, 898.〗

Who can say wherein lies the witchery of this word-music! It can only be felt. In addition to the common meaning of its terms, therefore, language seems to have a further expressiveness. This new significance is the creation of the poet, wrought out of the familiar words by his cunning manipulation of them. The wonder of the poet’s craft is like the musician’s,— That out of three sounds he frames, not a fourth sound, but a star.〖Browning’s “Abt Vogler,” H.C., xlii, 1100–1102.〗

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