Poetry is the clear expression of mixed feelings.W.H Auden.
Hello everyone and welcome back to another Theory Thursday.
The last time I talked about poetry, I specifically concentrated on sonnets and I broke down how a sonnet is constructed. You should go and check that out if you haven’t already.
Today I am going talk through some of the most common poetic devices that are used because when one is attempting to really understand and discuss poetry, understanding these poetic devices will be essential.
Writing poetry is a brilliant way to express feelings and share ideas. Poets choose words carefully, thinking about how they sound and what they mean and when deciding how to express oneself through poetry, there are a lot of factors to consider such as meter, form, structure, which techniques to use etc.
So let’s dive into Theory Thursday.
I am going talk about five poetic devices – Imagery, Metaphor, Personification, Onomatopoeia, and Hyperbole.
I have chosen these five poetic devices to start with because I believe these are some of the most common devices used so if you are someone who struggles with grasping poetry, starting with these basic devices will make it easier for you to start identifying these devices in poems that you read and being able to do so will enable you to understand and enjoy poetry on a deeper, more detailed level.
What is imagery?
Imagery is language (a word or a phrase) that paints a picture for the reader. The use of imagery should appeal to our senses – smell, sight, touch, and even taste. When the words create a vivid picture in the reader’s mind, it allows the poet’s intentions to become clearer.
An example of imagery can be found in the poem Rain, by Christy Ann Martine.
Clinging to the warmth of your fingertips as they press against the glass.A quote from Rain, by Christy Ann Martine.
I chose this quote as an example of imagery because I think it really does demonstrate what imagery can do. This quote is so simple and yet it does paint a beautiful picture. You can easily imagine someone sitting by their window with their fingers pressed against the glass, leaving fingerprints so it will be easy to see where they have been sitting, looking out at the rainy day.
I really love imagery because I think even though everyone reads the same words, we all likely imagine something different. The window I imagine may look different to what someone else will imagine and that is where personal interpretation comes in and that is always fascinating.
What is a metaphor?
A metaphor is when a writer compares two different things without using the word like or as, (comparing two things with like and as is a simile and I will discuss this device at another time), metaphors are extremely common in poetry.
An example of a metaphor can be found in the poem The Night is a Big Black Cat, by G. Orr Clark.
The Night is a big black cat. The moon is her topaz eye.A quote from The Night is a Big Black Cat, by G. Orr Clark.
I think that over time it becomes very easy to spot metaphors in poetry and it even becomes easy to use metaphors when we are speaking ourselves. If I say something like ‘She was a ghost today’, then I am using a metaphor to explain that someone looked really pale or unwell. People use metaphors all the time – Life is a rollercoaster etc, etc, etc.
What is personification?
Personification is when a writer gives an object human characteristics.
A really well-known example of the use of personification can be found in the poem I wandered lonely as a Cloud, by William Wordsworth. Some people may also refer to the poem as Daffodils.
I wandered lonely as a CloudA quote from I wandered lonely as a Cloud, by William Wordsworth.
The very first line is an example of personification because Wordsworth has given a human emotion to an object – a cloud – a cloud is a thing, it cannot be lonely but Wordsworth has given this object this human emotion. It is also easy to picture one cloud floating in the sky, all by itself and perhaps it is a lonely cloud.
What is onomatopoeia?
To put it very simply, onomatopoeia is when a word sounds like what it is describing. So for example ‘The buzzing of the bees.” Think of words like ‘splash’, ‘crunch’, ‘buzz’, etc. All of these words sound like the thing they are describing. When you say the word ‘buzz’, the z sound in ‘buzz’ sounds like the noise a bee makes. It becomes easier to identify the use of onomatopoeia when reading a poem aloud.
An example of onomatopoeia can be found in the poem Water, by Fil Bufalo.
Waves crash rain falls
Pitter pitter pat patA quote from Water, by Fil Bufalo.
The word ‘crash’ is a great example of onomatopoeia because when you say it, you can almost hear the crashing of the sea.
What is a hyperbole?
A hyperbole is the use of rather extreme exaggeration for comedic or dramatic effect.
If one looks again at I wandered lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth, an example of a hyperbole can be found in this poem too.
Ten thousand I saw at a glance.A quote from I wandered lonely as a Cloud, by William Wordsworth.
Hyperboles also become easy to recognise and people often use hyperboles when speaking too, perhaps without even realising it. Think of sentences like ‘I told you a million times!” – When we say things like this, it is because we are stressing something that we have said very often, and even though we did not actually say it a million times already, we feel like we did so we use hyperboles to make our point.
Why is it important to understand these poetic devices?
If you are student who is struggling with poetry then these breakdowns should make grasping poetry in English class easier. If you do have to write about poetry in exams and in essays, having an understanding of poetic techniques is going to be such an asset to you when it comes to getting the grade you want.
If you are someone who enjoys poetry and would like to be able to discuss it in more detail then having an understanding of poetic techniques and devices that authors use, especially these really common ones, will enable you to discuss poetry in more detail and understand poetry on a more complex level.
I really believe that understanding literary theory and poetic devices allows us to understand poetry in more detail and having an understanding of the devices used will allow you to grasp what the poet is trying to convey and this will also deepen your personal interpretation of the poem. I think that when we can understand something on a deeper, more nuanced level it means that we can connect to it more and understand why it makes us feel the way we do and that is when poetry truly becomes enjoyable.
I love when I read a poem and it touches me. I love when a poem makes me emotional or makes think about something or someone and I love being able to talk about why I love poetry in detail – something I wouldn’t be able to do effectively if I didn’t understand poetic techniques and devices and so that is why I think it is important to learn about these things, because doing so allows us to enjoy literature on a deeper level.
This has been Theory Thursday. I hope you enjoyed it. If you have any questions about these poetic devices then please do let me know and if poetry is your thing then make sure you keep coming back to Katelovesliterature.com because there are many more poetry discussions to come.