Many of the sounds in this poem work to replicate the feeling or experience of waves rolling onto a breezy beach, which is the setting of the poem. For instance, the mellifluous language created by repeated vowel sounds (a, e, and o) and soft consonants (s, m, f, and r) gives the poem a flowing quality, akin to waves in the sea or a warm summer breeze. In other words, the euphonious quality of these sounds replicates the smooth, quiet movement one might find on a beach, which supports the imagery of this poem.
Similarly, the alliteration that Stevens uses in this poem mimics the feel of the sea in that the familiar sounds repeat themselves, like waves rolling repeatedly onto a beach. Consider the following examples: “She made of the motions of her wrist” (line 3), “Came to be sleights of sails / Over the sea” (lines 8-9), and “subsiding sound” (line 15). Note the way the repeated m sound in the first example sets off the repeated “of,” as well, creating a cyclical effect. Likewise, the three s sounds in each of the other two examples create a similar wavelike effect as the reader makes their way through the line(s).
Stevens also used onomatopoeia in the third stanza to reinforce the imagery of the poem: “The rumpling of the plumes” (line 6). The word “rumpling” combined with the word “plumes” create a chiasmic sound pattern (i.e. p-l-l-p) which creates its own sort of rumpling. This emphasizes the action or sound of the plumes’ rumpling, thus strengthening—through the sound of the language itself—the image.
Finally, Stevens does something interesting with the repetition of the word “of” throughout the poem. Consider the third stanza:
The rumpling of the plumes
Of this creature of the evening
Came to be sleights of sails
Over the sea. (lines 6-9)
These lines could be rewritten without the presence of “of” (i.e. “The plumes’ rumpling,” etc.), but Stevens chose to use the “of” construction, subordinating the elements to each other in a confusing, convoluted way. This setup creates or at least implies a parallelism between all of the words that are connected by the word “of.” So, “plumes” are linked to “sails,” which are linked to “fan,” which are linked to “sea,” and so on. This pattern invites the reader to imagine a connection between these images.