Poetic Echoes – What They Are and How to Use Them

Harmony Cardenas

“Hello.” ‘ello “Orange soda, sis boom-ba.” oom-ba

Remember how much fun hearing your voice bounce around a big room and then come back to you was when you were a kid? Whether those are faded memories, or whether you still do it when no one is around-let me show you how to inject that fun into your poetry. The first few are some poetic and literary terms, and the final section will be a poetry form.

Poetry and music have a close kinship, so it shouldn’t surprise you when I tell you that a poetic echo has to do with the “music” or sound in a poem, specifically with regards to types of rhymes.

In general literary terms, an echo is a “repetition of the same sound, or combination of sounds, fairly close together, so that they ‘echo’ each other[, and is a] common device in verse to strengthen meaning and structure, and also to provide tune and melody” (Cuddon and Preston 247).

Alliteration, the repetition of beginning sounds, is probably the most familiar, but there are also vocalic and consonantal echoes, whose repetitions are subtler.

Vocalic echo repetitions are “vowel sounds [that] are repeated but not necessarily in order (cotillion/billygoat)” (Miller 14). If you look at Miller’s example you see he’s used the long “o” and short “i” sounds in cotillion. In billygoat the sounds are repeated, but not in the same order. If they had been in the same order it would still be considered a vocalic echo.

In contrast, consonantal echoes have repeated consonant sounds, “but not, as in alliteration, in the same order (tell/late, falter, traffic)” (Miller 14). When you look at Miller’s consonantal echo example you see the “t” and “l” sounds from the word “tell” are repeated, but in reverse order in the word “late”. Unlike a vocalic echo, if you choose not to reverse their order, it would not still be called a consonantal echo. It would be alliteration, or a type of rhyme, depending on where the repetition occurred within the word and within the stanza.

My favorite type of echo I call a literary echo. I use this technique when writing my essays, poetry, short stories or articles. Rather than repeating a sound, like in the terms above or in echo verse below, you repeat a topic or subject. Let me give you an example. I wrote a term paper a few years ago, and in my opening grabber paragraph I compared presidential candidates to apples and oranges (from the saying). When I closed my essay, I echoed this with a slight twist and referred to the whole thing as a fruit salad. This reminded the reader of where I started and helped me wrap up the essay.

Speaking of oranges, another example is the Writer’s Digest poetry winner a few years ago that used this technique, and oddly enough the subject of the echo they used was an orange. They began with a short stanza about the citrus fruit’s rhyming ability, and then went into the heart of their poem, which was not at all about oranges. They finally wrapped it up by referring back to the orange.

This can be done in any type of prose or poetry. In poetry and other short works, it can easily be used as a foil to the true subject of the poem and allow you add depth to your work.

Finally, I have a poetry form for you.

Echo Verse


As many forms of poetry have, echo verse began in the Classical Greek period. It is a “a witty device known usually as echo verse [and] would simulate the syllabic repetitions and truncations of natural echoes for satiric effect” (Hollander 37). Hollander’s definition is for echo verse in its purest form, but any echo used for any type of purposeful effect could be called echo verse in modern poetry terms.


–An echo of similar sounds, not unlike my examples that open this article/editorial-although you will want your echoes to have more meaning.
–Not exactly a must, but more of a really good idea: be clever and purposeful with your echoes. Don’t put them in your poem to make noise, let them sing and elevate your poem in the process.
That’s it. That’s all you must have.

COULD HAVES or What’s The Poet’s Choice In All This?

–How you present your echo. You could have it on the same line like this:
I’d like a present. Sent.

You could have it on the next line, like this:
I’d like a present.

You could designate your echo, like this:
I’d like a present.
Echo: Sent.

Get creative. However you decide to present it, make it meaningful.
–Choose what type of meter, or choose none at all.

Echoes are fun for kids, and adults and poets alike. I can’t resist adding something reminiscent of my favorite punny knock knock joke: Orange you glad you know more about poetic echoes? Yes, you may commence groaning-as long as right after you play with some poetic echoes.

Source Notes:

Cuddon, John Anthony, and Claire Preston. A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. 4th. MA: Blackwell Publishers, Inc., 1998.

Hollander, John. Rhyme’s Reason. 3rd. Yale University Press, 2000.

Williams, Miller (1986). Patterns of Poetry: An Encyclopedia of Forms. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press.

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