onomatopoeia (ŏnˌəmătˌəpēˈə) [key] [Gr., = word-making], in language, the representation of a sound by an imitation thereof; e.g., the cat mews. Poets often convey the meaning of a verse through its very sound. For example, in "Song of the Lotus-Eaters" Tennyson indicates the slow, sensuous, and langorous life of the Lotus-Eaters by the sound of the words he uses to describe the land in which they live:

Here are cool mosses deep,
And through the moss the ivies creep,
And in the stream the long-leaved flowers weep,
And from the craggy ledge the poppy hangs in sleep.

Onomatopoeia can also represent harsh and unpleasant sounds, as in Browning's "Meeting at Night":

A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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