How to use Poetry as an Aid to Pronunciation

Reading poetry aids pronunciation. Poetry is best expressed when read aloud and the poet’s use of rhyme and alliteration creates sounds that aid pronunciation. Our hearing is very sensitive to poetry due to the intentional word choice of poets.

Rhyme, rhythm, and repetition all call for careful, deliberate pronunciation. Rhyme and repetition are especially effective for pronunciation because the reader has expectations and can anticipate hearing certain sounds.

The rhyme is evident in “Richard Cory” by Edward Arlington Robinson (first stanza here):

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him;
He was a gentleman from sole to crown
Clean favored and imperially slim.

Here is another poem that is especially good for practicing pronunciation:

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

(You can see and hear the rhyme and then the repetition at the end.)
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Poetry is an excellent way to improve pronunciation when there is alliteration. Alliteration is the repetition of initial consonant sounds, thereby connecting the words that are to be emphasized:

Then up and spake an old sailor,
Had sailed to the Spanish Main,
“I pray thee, put into yonder port,
For I fear a hurricane.”
-Henry W. Longfellow, “The Wreck of Hesperus”

Assonance is another poetic device that aids pronunciation by using the repetition of similar vowel sounds in a sentence or a line of poetry or prose, as in Walt Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer”. Read aloud and hear the “i” sounds:
“How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick, / Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself.”

Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is an example of structure that has consistency in the elements of rhyme, line length, and metrical pattern. Even a single stanza can be used to develop pronunciation.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though.
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

The arrangement of words in lines and stanzas also helps in pronunciation practice as the reader stops at the end of every line. That pause is helpful to readers.

Poetry is an excellent reading way to improve pronunciation. The intention word choice, the word arrangement in lines, and the poetic devices of rhythm, rhyme, repetition, alliteration, and assonance all provide opportunities to practice pronunciation.