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Dissonance

A disruption of harmonic sounds or rhythms. Like cacophony, it refers to a harsh collection of sounds; dissonance is usually intentional, however, and depends more on the organization of sound for a jarring effect, rather than on the unpleasantness of individual words. Gerard Manley Hopkins’s use of fixed stresses and variable unstressed syllables, combined with frequent assonance, consonance, and monosyllabic words, has a dissonant effect. See these lines from “Carrion Comfort”:

          Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
          Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
          Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, cheer.

Gertrude Stein’s “Susie Asado” does not lack a musical quality, but its rapid repetition of sounds and varied sentence lengths create dissonance through tension and instability:

          This is a please this is a please there are the saids to jelly. These are the wets these say the sets to leave a crown to Incy.
          Incy is short for incubus.
          A pot. A pot is a beginning of a rare bit of trees. Trees tremble, the old vats are in bobbles, bobbles which shade and shove and render clean, render clean must.
          Drink pups.
          Drink pups drink pups lease a sash hold, see it shine and a bobolink has pins. It shows a nail.

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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