In "Time Passes," the Ramsay family moves out of their summer house on Skye and remains away for a decade. During this period, the house begins to take on a life of its own as it begins to rot and crumble from neglect. The book recounts this transformation using both alliteration and simile at the very beginning of Chapter 9:
The house was left; the house was deserted. It was left like a shell on a sandhill to fill with dry salt grains now that life had left it. The long night seemed to have set in, the trifling airs, nibbling, the clammy breaths, fumbling, seemed to have triumphed. The saucepan had rusted and the mat decayed. Toads had nosed their way in. Idly, aimlessly, the swing shawl swung to and fro. A thistle thrust itself between the tiles in the larder.
Woolf makes ample use of literary devices in this passage to paint a vivid picture of this scene. She begins with a simile, comparing the house to a seashell on a dune, abandoned by whatever organisms once lived within and filling with sand as time goes on. Woolf then illustrates what, exactly, these new tenants are that fill the house: "trifling" gusts of wind, some "toads," even some plants begin to grow in the larder. She uses alliteration to illustrate her observations: the "swing shawl swung," while "a thistle thrust itself between the tiles."
In the first part of the passage, the seashell simile captures the barrenness of the house on Skye, a barrenness that stands in sharp contrast to the lively environment of the first section of the book, "The Window," when the house was filled with people. The purpose of a seashell is to be a home for a sea creature, and an empty shell on the shore is a physical reminder of death and abandonment.
After characterizing the emptiness of the Ramsay's house in these terms, Woolf then shifts the reader's attention to time in the second part of the paragraph through the use of alliteration. By repeating these sounds, Woolf calls attention to the passage of the words themselves before the readers eyes: physical evidence of the passage of time. She builds a metronome out of the sentences that ticks away as the words march on, and thereby emphasizes the dramatic acceleration of the novel's time-scale in "Time Passes." Her description of the house's deterioration captures months and years of neglect in mere seconds, metered out by the alliteration itself.