Poets and musicians use onomatopoeia in their work in two main ways: directly and indirectly. One way is to directly or obviously use an onomatopoeic word to
create atmosphere for the reader. The other way is less obvious, where words or parts of words that are used to create an
onomatopoeic device, which is usually a pun, in a poem (some examples of this is given below).
Simple Onomatopoeia in Poetry
The poetry of Langston Hughes contains direct uses of onomatopoeic words in the The Weary Blues. The thump, thump, thump
of the singer's foot upon the floor draws the reader or listener into the scene Hughes is creating. Listen to the following recording of
The Weary Blues to here how Langton Hughes uses onomatopoeia in his poems.
Edgar Allen Poe's poem The Raven uses many examples of onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeic words such as tapping and rapping
are used to build up the tension felt by the protagonist in Poe's poem. There are many other examples of onomatopoeia in The Raven.
See if you can identify them by listening to the poem:
More complex examples of onomatopoeia in poems
Words and parts of words can be used by poets to create Onomatopoeic puns. In the Prioress' Tale, one of Chaucer's Canterbury
Tales, Chaucer has created what is known as the hissing stanza. In this stanza, he uses words with hissing sounds, to
build atmosphere in the serpent's tempting:
Our first foe, the serpent Satanas, That hath in Jews' heart his wasps nest, Up swelled, and said: "O Hebraic people, alas! Is this to you a thing that is honest, That such a boy shall walken as him lest In your despite, and sing of such sentence, Which is against your law's reverence?
As was mentioned on the main page of this website subtle examples of onomatopoeia in poems are also found in the last lines of
Sir Alfred Tennyson's poem 'Come Down, O Maid'. In this poem m and n sounds produce an atmosphere of
... the moan of doves in immemorial elms, And murmuring of innumerable bees.
Blues musician Mississippi John Hurt's Richland Woman Blues contains both obvious and more subtle uses of onomatopoeia.
Hurt start with an obvious use on onomatopoeia with the line:
Red rooster says, "Cockadoodle do doo"
Mississippi John Hurt then follows with a bawdier line containing a more subtle use of onomatopoeia, which makes fun
of protagonist in his song. You can hear the Richland Woman Blues here: