While reading a poem, a story or some literary work you may have come across words like meow, woof, woosh, splash, shush, boom, ding-dong, knock and many other words mimicking the sound of thing or actions.
These types of sound-mimicking words are termed onomatopoeia, a common literary device used by writers. Onomatopoeia also helps readers to hear what is happening in a story or poetry.
An onomatopoeia is a word that mimics or imitates the sound of the thing that it describes or referring to.
In poetry and literature, onomatopoeia words help writers in making their writing alive in the reader’s imagination by giving it a feel, expression, and atmosphere creating vivid imagery of that literary work.
Onomatopoeia words have often been used in poetry and literature to describe–
- Animal sounds – meow (cat), moo (cow), roar (lion), woof (dog), baa (sheep), buzz (bee), ribbit (frog), quack (duck), cock-a-doodle-do (roosters) etc.
- Nature sounds – splash, woosh, rustle, drip, swoosh, gasp, whizz, whip, sprinkle, drizzle, etc.
- Sounds of voices – shush, ahem, chatter, whisper, hiss, growl, giggle, groan, murmur, mumble, etc.
- Impact Sounds – boom, bang, thump, thud, crash, clang, clank, clatter, smash, etc.
- Action sounds – ding-dong, fizz, boing, click, knock, crunch, scratch, etc.
To give you an easily understood example of onomatopoeia, let’s have a look at this popular nursery rhyme “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” by Mother Goose-
Baa, baa, black sheep
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.
In the first line of this famous nursery rhyme, you can see the use of the onomatopoeia word “baa” which describes the sound a sheep makes and to your knowledge, every animal sound that writers put in words is the form of onomatopoeia.
Onomatopoeia Examples in Poetry & Literature–
Read the below examples of onomatopoeia in poetry and literature. For your convenience, the onomatopoeic words have been bolded and underlined in every example.
1. “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe
Examples of onomatopoeia in the poem, The Raven, can be found in these extracts from the poem-
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door—
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
Merely this and nothing more.Read ”The Raven” full poem here
Edgar Allan Poe was considered the master of onomatopoeia and in his poem “The Raven”, Poe brings onomatopoeia in his poetry by repeating the words “tapping” and “rapping” which describes the sound at the door. He repeats these two onomatopoeic words many times in the poem. Poe also used direct onomatopoeic words like “muttered”, “whispered” and “murmured” in the poem.
2. “Come Down, O Maid” by Alfred Lord Tennyson
Examples of onomatopoeia in the poem, Come Down,- O Maid, can be found in the below extract from the poem-
The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
And murmuring of innumerable bees.Read ”Come Down, O Maid” full poem here
In the last two lines of his poem, Tennyson uses clear and direct onomatopoeia words “moan” and “murmuring” to bring onomatopoeia in his poetry.
3. “Cynthia in the Snow” by Gwendolyn Brooks
Examples of onomatopoeia in the poem, Cynthia in the Snow, can be found in the below onomatopoeic words-
The loudness in the road.
And laughs away from me.
It laughs a lovely whiteness,
And whitely whirs away,
Still white as milk or shirts,
So beautiful it hurts.
In his poem “Cynthia in the Snow”, Gwendolyn Brooks is talking about snow and the changes first snowfall brings to the atmosphere of the land. While using the onomatopoeic words like “shushes” and “hushes” for snow, Brooks is telling us how snow made everyone stay inside leaving the land silent and full of its whiteness. He also personifies the snow by saying “it laughs a lovely whiteness” adding another literary device in his poem.
4. “The Weary Blues” by Langston Hughes
Examples of onomatopoeia in the poem, The Weary Blues, can be found in the below extract from the poem-
I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan—
“Ain’t got nobody in all this world,
Ain’t got nobody but ma self.
I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’
And put ma troubles on the shelf.”
Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
He played a few chords then he sang some more—Read ”The Weary Blues” full poem here
In his poem “The Weary Blues”, Langston Hughes uses the onomatopoeic word ”thump” to present the sound of a singer’s foot hitting the floor.
5. “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” by Robert Browning
Examples of onomatopoeia in the poem, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, can be found in the below extracts from the poem-
Only a scraping of shoes on the mat?
Anything like the sound of a rat
Makes my heart go pit-a-pat!
You heard as if an army muttered;
And the muttering grew to a grumbling;
And the grumbling grew to a mighty rumbling;
And out of the houses the rats came tumbling.
“There was a rustling that seemed like a bustling
Of merry crowds justling at pitching and hustling,
Small feet were pattering, wooden shoes clattering,
Little hands clapping and little tongues chattering,
And, like fowls in a farm-yard when barley is scattering…”Read ”The Pied Piper of Hamelin” full poem here
This poem by Robert Browning tells the story of a rat’s invasion in a town called Hamelin, and the whole poem is full of many onomatopoeic words coming frequently in the poem describing the rat’s problem.
6. “Honky Tonk in Cleveland, Ohio” by Carl Sandburg
Examples of onomatopoeia in the poem, Honky Tonk in Cleveland,- Ohio, can be found in the below extract from the poem-
It’s a jazz affair, drum crashes and cornet razzes.
The trombone pony neighs and the tuba jackass snorts.
The banjo tickles and titters too awful.
The chippies talk about the funnies in the papers.
The cartoonists weep in their beer.Read ”Honky Tonk in Cleveland, Ohio” full poem here
In this poem, the poet Carl Sandburg (also the winner of Pulitzer Prizes for his poetry) is describing the atmosphere of a jazz bar. He uses different onomatopoeic words to recreate the sounds of instruments being played in the bar along will the noises of people describing what else happening in the bar.
7. “The Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe
Examples of onomatopoeia in the poem, The Bells, can be found in the below extracts from the poem-
To the tintinabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells—
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.
How they clang, and clash, and roar!
What a horror they outpour
On the bosom of the palpitating air!
Yet the ear it fully knows,
By the twanging,
And the clanging,
How the danger ebbs and flows;
Yet the ear distinctly tells,
In the jangling,
And the wrangling.”
To the throbbing of the bells—
Of the bells, bells, bells—
To the sobbing of the bells;
To the moaning and groaning of the bellsRead ”The Bells” full poem here
This poem is all about Bells where Poe describes the sounds of four different kinds of bells. In the poem, the word “bells” has been repeated 62 times in such coordination that it creates onomatopoeia in the poem. In every stanza of the poem, Poe has used different onomatopoeia words to establish a specific mood.
8. “Meeting at Night” by Robert Browning
Examples of onomatopoeia in the poem, Meeting at Night, can be found in the below extract from the poem-
As I gain the cove with pushing prows,
And quench its speed i’the slushy sand.
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match…Read ”Meeting at the Night” full poem here
In this poem, Browning is telling the story of a sea journey taken by the speaker at midnight to meet the person he is in love with. The poet’s use of onomatopoeic words like “slushy”, “tap”, “scratch” and “spurt” very well describes the feeling of a boat sailing in the sea.
9. “Rain Dance Poem” by Victoria Reome
Examples of onomatopoeia in the poem, Rain Dance Poem, can be found in the below extract from the poem-
“When a poem is born
What is the chance
Of words in rain
Drip drop dance
Ping ting sing
Pitter patter rhyme
Rain dance acceleration
Makes my poem climb
Dribble drench drizzle
Thinking on the fence
Sprinkle splish splash
Bring balance to my sense”
In this poem, the poet talks about the rain and describes raining as a rain dance. The poet’s use of onomatopoeic words like “drip”, “drizzle”, “splish”, “splash” is describing the sound of the rain.
10. “I heard a Fly buzz- when I die” by Emily Dickinson
Examples of onomatopoeia in the poem, I heard a Fly buzz, can be found in the below extract from the poem-
I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air –
Between the Heaves of Storm –Read ”I heard a Fly buzz- When I die” full poem here
In this poem, Emily Dickinson is describing the atmosphere around a deathbed. She uses a single onomatopoeic word that is “buzz” in the poem to describe the buzzing sound of the fly that is cutting the silent air around the speaker’s deathbed and it is also the last thing she hears before her death.
11. “On the Ning Nang Nong” by Spike Milligan
Examples of onomatopoeia in the poem, On the Ning Nang Nong, can be found in the below extract from the poem-
On the Ning Nang Nong
Where the Cows go Bong!
and the monkeys all say BOO!
There’s a Nong Nang Ning
Where the trees go Ping!
And the tea pots jibber jabber joo.
On the Nong Ning Nang
All the mice go Clang…Read ”On the Ning Nang Nong” full poem here
In this children’s poem, the poet talks about an imaginary place called Ning Nang Nong. Milligan uses different onomatopoeic words to describe the noises anyone can expect to hear at that imaginary place.
12. “Running Water” by Lee Emmett
Examples of onomatopoeia in the poem, Running Water, can be found in the below extract from the poem-
“water plops into pond
warbling magpies in tree
trilling, melodic thrill
whoosh, passing breeze
flags flutter and flap
frog croaks, bird whistles
babbling bubbles from tap”
In this poem, the poet is talking about the water that is running downhill, into the pond, and from other places like house tap. The poet is using onomatopoeic words like “splish-splash”, “woosh”, “flutter”, and “flap” describing air sounds and water sounds in the poem.
13. “Piano” by D.H Lawrence
Examples of onomatopoeia in the poem, Piano, can be found in the below extract from the poem-
Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.Read ”Piano” full poem here
In this poem, the poet describes the feeling of the moment when he was listening to a woman playing piano which made him think about his childhood memories and get nostalgic. The poet uses onomatopoeic words like “boom” and “tingling” in presenting the feelings of his childhood good-old memories.
14. “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes
Examples of onomatopoeia in the poem, The Highwayman, can be found in the below extracts from the poem-
Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard.
He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred.
Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horsehoofs ringing clear;
Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
In this poem, “Tlot-tlot” describing the repeated sound of the horse hooves is an invented sound word by Alfred Noyes that is onomatopoeic and creates great onomatopoeia in the poem along with other onomatopoeic words like “clattered”, “clashed”, and “tapped”.
15. “Fossils” by Ogden Nash
Examples of onomatopoeia in the poem, Fossils, can be found in the below extract from the poem-
At midnight in the museum hall
The fossils gathered for a ball
There were no drums or saxophones,
But just the clatter of their bones,
A rolling, rattling, carefree circus
Of mammoth polkas and mazurkas.Read ”Fossils” full poem here
In this imaginary poem, the poet uses onomatopoeic words like “clatter”, “rolling”, and “rattling” to describe the sound coming from the bones of the fossils gathered for a ball.
16. “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare
Examples of onomatopoeia in the play, The Tempest, can be found in the below extract from the poem-
The watch-dogs bark!
Hark, hark! I hear
The strain of strutting chanticleer
In these lines, Shakespeare uses onomatopoeic words to describe some animal noises like “wow-wow” describing the bark of a dog and “cock-a-diddle-dow” describing the sound made by a rooster.
17. “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare
Examples of onomatopoeia in the tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, can be found in the below extract from the play-
”He swung about his head and cut the winds,
Who nothing hurt withal, hissed him in scorn.
While we were interchanging thrusts and blows…”
In these lines, Shakespeare uses common onomatopoeic words like “hiss” creating an onomatopoeic effect in the poem.
18. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Examples of onomatopoeia in the poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, can be found in the below extract from the poem-
”The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea”.
In this poem, the poet uses onomatopoeic words like “burst” and also used some non-onomatopoeic words like “furrow” and “followed free” in such coordination in the poem that it created an onomatopoeic effect in the poetry that’s describing the sound of the sea.
19. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K Rowling
Examples of onomatopoeia in the novel, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, can be found in the below lines from the novel-
SMASH! The door was hit such force that it swung clean
off its hinges and with a deafening crash landed flat on the floor
In this line from J.K Rowling’s popular novel, you can find two onomatopoeic words examples “smash” and “clash” describing the sound of an action taking place in the story.
20. “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Ernest Hemingway
Example of onomatopoeia in the novel, For Whom the Ball Tolls, can be found in the below line from the novel-
He saw nothing and heard nothing but he could feel his heart pounding and then he heard the clack on stone and the leaping, dropping clicks of a small rock falling.
This line from Hemingway’s 1940 novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls” presents a good example of how onomatopoeia words help readers to imagine a serious or important situation in a story. The words “pounding”, “clack”, and “clicks” helps readers to picture a character standing at the edge of a cliff, fearing for his life.
21. “Finnegan’s Wake” by James Joyce
Examples of onomatopoeia in the novel, Finnegan’s Wake, can be found in the below lines from the novel-
The fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonner-ronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthur-nuk!) of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later on life down through all christian minstrelsy.
In this extract from James Joyce’s novel “Finnegan’s Wake”, Joyce represents the sound of the thunder through his long-invented gibberish word “bababadal….”, making it one of the longest onomatopoeia words in literature.
22. “Ulysses” by James Joyce
Examples of onomatopoeia in the poem, Ulysses, can be found in the below extract from the poem-
…I was just beginning to yawn with nerves thinking he was trying to make a fool of me when I knew his tattarrattat at the door…
In “Ulysses” James Joyce came up with a new sound word for his poetry and used “tattarrattat” for describing the knocking sound at the door.
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