Definition of Euphony

Euphony refers to the quality of being pleasant to listen to. Euphony generally comes about through a harmonious combination of sounds and words. An author can create euphony in many different ways, such as using pleasant vowel and consonants, or by employing other literary devices, such as rhythm, rhyme, consonance, and assonance to create an overall harmonious sound to a work of literature.

The word euphony comes from the Greek word euphōnia, which means “well-sounding.” The definition of euphony is opposite that of cacophony, which refers to the usage of harsh, unpleasant, or unharmonious sounds. Euphonious sounds include all the vowels, as well as the consonants m, n, l, and r, while cacophonous sounds include sharp consonants such as t, k, d, and g. The study of euphony and cacophony together is called phonaesthetics, which describes the inherent pleasantness and unpleasantness of specific words.

Common Examples of Euphony

Due to the fact that euphony is meant to please the ear, many lullabies are examples of euphony in order to lull a baby to sleep (even the word “lull” is an example of euphony). Here are some sample lyrics:

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.

In this case, the euphony comes from consonants such as l, r, w, n, and h, but also from the mellifluous rhyme scheme of AABB and the regular trochaic rhythm.

Show me your motion
Tra la la la la
Come on show me your motion
Tra la la la la la
Show me your motion
Tra la la la la
She looks like a sugar in a plum
Plum plum

The syllables “tra” and “la” are repeated several times over in this song, which are inherently pleasing sounds.

Significance of Euphony in Literature

Most works of poetry and literary prose contain some examples of euphony in that authors pay attention to creating harmonious sounds in their writing. Some notable exceptions can be found in the article about cacophony, where there are examples of mental distress that authors create an aural representation of via harsh and discordant sounds. Otherwise, writers generally choose pleasant-sounding words to describe beautiful settings and joyful emotions. Writers also choose the naturally harmonious techniques of rhyme, rhythm, and alliteration, as mentioned above, to create an overall pleasant sound to their works of literature.

Examples of Euphony in Literature

Example #1

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

(“Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare)

This love sonnet by William Shakespeare is among his most famous, and for good reason. Shakespeare uses many techniques to create a tone of love and adoration. The ways in which he creates euphony in the poem are numerous. First of all, he uses the regular meter and rhyme that are common to all of his sonnets, which is to say iambic pentameter with the rhyme scheme of ABABCDCDEFEFGG. This regularity is pleasing to the ear, because the listener knows what to expect and is gratified when Shakespearer fulfills these expectations. Also, he uses many words which are euphonious in and of themselves, such as the rhyming word “dimmed” and “untrimmed.” The first line has many euphonious words, such as “shall,” “compare,” and “summer,” perhaps why the line has become so famous on its own.

Example #2

    Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

(“The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe)

Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “The Raven” is perhaps a surprising example of euphony in that the subject matter is so dark and depressing. However, Poe does use some key techniques to make different stanzas especially pleasing to the ear. He employs a strict rhyme scheme throughout the entire poem, ending the last three lines of each stanza with the euphonious r sound—implore, yore, Lenore, door, floor, nevermore, and so forth. Indeed, it has been stated by some theorists that the two words “cellar door” are the most euphonious of all English words or phrases. Poe uses this to great effect in his poem. He also softens the harsher word “quote” by changing it to “quoth.” There are plenty of other euphony examples in just this stanza, such as the word “seraphim,” “perfumed,” “nepenthe,” “memories,” and “quaff.” Each of these words makes use of the more pleasant-sounding of consonants.

Example #3

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.

(“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost)

Robert Frost creates euphony in his poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by rhyming each of the final words in this last stanza, and by repeating a line twice. This repetition is pleasing to the ear because it creates a finality and reaffirmation of the sentiment. There are also many euphonious words in this stanza, such as “lovely,” “promises,” “miles,” and “before.”

Example #4

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

(“Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens)

Wallace Stevens uses many examples of euphony in his thirteen-part poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” There are several techniques at work in just this short stanza, which if the fifth part of the poem. Stevens repeats the word “beauty” in two successive lines, which is euphonious both for in the repetition and in the sounds of the word. He also uses assonance and consonance in the following words—“inflections” and “innuendoes,” which are also euphonious in and of themselves.

Example #5

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

(“From Blossoms” by Li-Young Lee)

Li-Young Lee uses many euphony examples in his poem “From Blossoms.” It is not surprising that he created lines with so many harmonious sounds, since the subject matter of this poem is the simple beauty of eating a peach. We can see several of the techniques that other writers use to create euphony, such as the repetition of “not only,” as well as consonance in those two lines between “shade” and “sugar” and the assonance between “shade” and “days.”

Test Your Knowledge of Euphony

1. Which of the following statements is the best euphony definition?
A. A series of harsh, unpleasant sounds.
B. The study of the inherent pleasantness and unpleasantness of different sounds.
C. The quality of being pleasing to the ear.

Answer to Question #1 Show

2. In which of the following works of literature might you expect to find a euphony example?
A. A love poem
B. A battle scene
C. A descent into madness

Answer to Question #2 Show

Consider the following excerpt from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet:

ROMEO: But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,

Which of the following literary devices make this speech an example of euphony?

I. Rhyme
II. Rhythm
III. Consonants like w, n, l, r, f

A. I, II, and III
B. II and III
C. I and II

Answer to Question #3 Show

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