Aural Suggestion

I’ve been thinking recently about a certain poetic technique that I don’t recall ever hearing a name for. I have no idea if it even has a name. But it’s an interesting technique, one which (perhaps) I would like to see more.

It could, I suppose, be called “aural suggestion”. The idea is, you suggest, via rhyme, rhythm, alliteration, that the next word in the poem/song/whatever will be one thing, and then have it be something else. A few examples to show what I mean (none taken from poem of particular merit, but my only intent is to get across the idea of what I mean):

  • From the Nightwish song “Wish I Had An Angel”, there are the lines “Last dance, / first kiss / Your touch, my bliss / Beauty always comes with dark thoughts“. But the kiss-bliss alliteration suggests, to me at least, that the last line ought to be “beauty always comes with darkness“.
  • In my poem “Week-Day of the Conqueror”, a quatrain runs, “Tyr’s time now comes, the fighter god / Off to battle, off to war; / Now Odin’s day, the ravens’ lord / God of wisdom, wolf and lore“. The last word of the last line clearly must rhyme with war, so lore works fine – but in my opinion the wisdom-wolf alliteration builds up to using the word war once again, so, “God of wisdom, wolf, and war“, is aurally suggested, even if rhyming war with war would actually have sounded somewhat odd.
  • There’s a common “joke” in which you ask questions that lead to certain answers, for example, making the victim say the words most, coast, boast, roast. They you ask them, what do you put in a toaster?  They’ll probably say toast. Of course, the correct answer is bread.

Hm… is this a valid poetic technique, or is its inclusion always a mistake? Would the Nightwish song have been better, poetically, if it had in fact run “beauty always comes with darkness”? Or does the aural suggestion add to the meaning – using a single word, “dark thoughts”, to also suggest “darkness”, getting (admittedly similar) two connotations for the price of one? Or is it meaningless – mildly interesting if you happen to notice it, but adding nothing to the beauty or meaning of the poetry?

In my own poem, there’s the line “God of wisdom, wolf, and lore”, with the aural suggestion of “war”. Perhaps the first question is, does this suggest to the listener that Odin is in fact god of wisdom, wolf, war, and lore? Or does it first propose war as something Odin is god of, but then retract it, saying he is instead the god of lore? I think the first “sounds” more accurate, but perhaps both are acceptable readings. Maybe the use of aural suggestion is mostly useful for intentional ambiguity – adding more and perhaps contradictory meanings to a single statement.

Maybe you could even have a poem where a certain word was crucial to its meaning but it was never said – the word was just suggests, so the audience subconsciously thought about it, but the word never appeared in the poem. That would be an interesting, but really difficult, poetic experiment.

Though the joke example, I think, suggests that this is less a poetic technique than a poetic trick – something that the reader will not actually appreciate having in the poem, but instead find annoying.

I don’t really have a point here; just drawing your attention to the idea of aural suggestion. And asking if anyone has ever heard of an actual term for it – “aural suggestion” was just made up by me half an hour ago in an attempt to describe, roughly, what it is. And does anyone have any examples from poems by actually historically important poets that use this?


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