Dissonance – Dissonant – harsh-toned, clashing, inharmonious. In poetry, dissonance is the avoidance of patterns of vowel sounds. It is opposite of assonance – the resemblance of vowel sounds in nearby words.
Cacophony – Cacophonous – harsh mixture of sound, generally the hard consonant sounds, hard c, g, p, k, x sounds. Cacophonous sounds take an effort to pronounce.
It is opposite to euphony – harmonious sounds that make a pleasant flow when spoken.
The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetics says they are akin, but that dissonance is used when the harsh sounds are intentional and cacophony is unintentional. My thesaurus says: cacophony – dissonance, ill-sounding, discord and dissonance – discord, cacophony, jangle, but also incompatible, irregular. Thus they are very similar, but not quite the same. Both can be helpful tools for poets.
Poets usually attempt to be euphonic. But a poet can use cacophony and dissonance to their advantage if the subject matter warrants it. The sounds enforce the meaning of the poem, sometimes not the whole poem but a section or line that calls for harsh sounds.
Most free verse is dissonant to some degree in that it does not have vowel rhymes. But you can take that further by deliberately staying away from using the same vowel sound within a couple lines of each other, or come close by staying away from repeated vowel sounds on your stressed syllables.
Cacophony can increase tension, conflict, or disharmony. If you take cacophony to the extreme, at length you can drop into onomatopoeia, where your consonant sounds take on the sound of the subject. The trick is to jamb consonant sounds against each other. “rusted soap bubbles perform mad curses.” A fancier trick is to use only single syllable or simple two-syllable words that will be read fast. Speed will increase the degree of cacophony. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129:
Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action lust
Is perjur’d, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
William Packard, in The Poet’s Dictionary says this sonnet is so full of speed and dissonance as to fall into cacophony. I’m not sure that dissonance plays much of a role here. Shakespeare rhymes both ends of the lines, in an attempt (it’s thought) to give some control of the cacophony.
Remember, by whatever definition you use, cacophony and dissonance bring discomfort to the reader/listener. If discomfort is what you want, feel free to use them to your advantage.
Comments: No Comments »