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Poetic Devices

Page history last edited by Matt Peterson 11 years ago

Rules of Poetry and Principles.

1. There is no poetry code--no DHM.

2. How you say it says something--form is persuasive

3. Poetry is concrete.

4. Take words seriously.

5. Take images seriously.

6. Follow the logic and implications of the the image, metaphor, or symbol.

7. Reread.

8. Peel away the layers.

9. Context matters.

10. Tone

11. Shifts

12. Patterns and connections

13. Fundamentals: setting, occasion/plot, characters, point of view






Sophisticated Selma sat sipping sassafrass sodas while listening to Sally snore soundly.


Why use repeated sounds?

They are everywhere: idioms, cliches, advertisements and campaign slogans:

  • busy as a bee
  • smooth as silk
  • Better buy Bird's Eye!
  • Shop at Sears and Save
  • Tippecanoe and Tyler too
  • Fifty-four Forty or fight


Repetition of (initial) consonant sounds in order to

  • (create melody)
  • 1. establish mood/atmosphere
  • call attention to
    • 2. similar words or images
    • 3. contrasting words or images
    • 4. important words or details 
  • 5. echo ________ 


The long light shakes across the lakes,

And the wild cataract leaps in glory.


Welling water, winsome word,

Wind in warm wan weather.


Lie lightless, all the sparkles bleared and black and blind.


Alliteration creates melody, but for poets, this is not enough. Alexander Pope, an 18th-century English poet, said, "The sound must be an echo." Of what?



The moan of doves in immemorial elms,

And murmuring of innumerable bees.


call attention to similar:

...dreadful was the din of hissing through the hall.



Depth of pain and height of passion.


link similar thoughts, images, or feelings:

...spikes of light


Find the alliterative sounds and determine their purposes in the following passages:


1. And hurled his glistening beams through the gloomy air.


2. Greedily they ingorged without restraint.


3. The bookful blockhead, ignorantly read 

   With loads of learned lumber in his head.


4. Weaving the web of days that wove your doom.

The alliterated ds ensure that the reader understands the negative connotation of the weaving. Weaving in itself is a generally positive, relaxing pastime. However, the image and sound of weaving one’s doom is assuredly terrible.


5. He was haughty, she was humble,

   He was loathed and she was loved.

The alliterated hs draw attention to “haughty” and “humble” in order to contrast the male and female. Similarly, “loathed” and “loved” also highlight the difference between these people.



Determine how they establish the mood in the following passages:

1. She sent the gentle sleep from Heaven,
    That slid into my soul.
     ("s": a snarling, cheerful, or calm effect?)
2. Down sunk a hollow bottom, broad and deep.
     ("b" and "d": dull and heavy or light and carefree?)



A pattern of images that appeal to the senses in order to suggest importance, establish mood, and develop theme.


Identify which senses are appealed to, and which is appealed to most strongly.


The hot July sun beat relentlessly down, casting an orange glare over the farm buildings, the fields, the pond. Even the usually cool green willows bordering the pond hung wilting and dry. The shimmering water seemed to hiss with rising steam. Our sun-baked backs ached for relief. We quickly pulled off our sweaty clothes and plunged into the pond, but the tepid water only stifled us and we soon climbed back onto the brown, dusty bank. Our parched throats longed for something cool -- a strawberry ice, a tall frosted glass of lemonade. We pulled on our clothes and headed through the dense, crackliing underbrush, the sharp briars pulling at our damp trousers, until we reached the field -- and the yellow-streaked green of the watermelon patch. Just the thought of the water-laden fruit made us run, and, as we began to cut open the nearest melon, we could smell the pungent skin mingling with the dusty odor of dry earth. The soft, over-ripe melon gave way with a crack, revealing the deep pink sugar-heavy and tender relief inside.


What emotion does the imagery (comprised of images) arouse?


From Alfred Lord Tennyson's "The Lotus-Eaters":

To which senses appealed to?

Which sensory images are most vivid?

What dominant emotion does the imagery arouse?


There is sweet music here that softer falls

Than petals from blown roses on the grass,

Or night-dews on still waters between walls

Of shadowy granite, in a gleaming pass;

Music that gentlier on the spirit lies

Than tired eyelids upon tired eyes;

Music that brings sweet sleep down from the blissful skies.

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.


Figurative Language (metaphor, simile, personification, hyperbole, allusion)


A departure from literal language to explore ideas through images and implication.


When it's good:


Forceful and efficient




The coffee was so strong you could stand a spoon in it.

The coffee was so strong you could trot a mouse on it.




An implied comparison between two unrelated things, indicating a similarity between some attributes found in both things.

It does not use "like" or "as." Thus, its communication is more powerful.


All the world's a stage.

Fred's a pig at the table.

The screaming headlines announced the crime.

Life's a short summer; man, a flower.

Tumbleweeds are the lost children of the desert

Death is a black camel, which kneels at the gates of all.



The fog comes

On little cat feet.

It sits looking

Over harbor and city

On silent haunches

And then moves on 

      - C. Sandburg


My love and My heart (refrain)

But my love she is a kitten

And my heart's a ball of string. 




An explicit comparison between two unrelated things, indicating a similarity between some attributes found in both things.

Similes use "like" or "as."


John swims like a fish.

He sleeps like a log.

Marie eats like a bird.

The dawn came up like thunder.


(from) A Red, Red Rose

O my love's like a red, red rose

That's newly sprung in June.

O my love's like a melodie

That's sweetly played in tune.

    - R. Burnes



Venn diagram of "city" and "heart"


The Eagle

Alfred Lord Tennyson

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;

Close to the sun in lonely lands,

Ringed with the azure world he stands.


The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls; 

He watches from his mountain walls,

And like a thunderbolt he falls.




A kind of metaphor in which an animal, inanimate object, or idea is given a human quality.


Fear clutched at his throat.

Winter undresses the trees.

The hot sun snarled down at us.


Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day

Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain.




An exaggeration to heighten effect.


I could eat a horse.


So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,

     So deep in love am I:

And I will love thee still, my dear,

     Till all the seas go dry.















Some Practice




There's just no accounting for happiness,

or the way it turns up like a prodigal

who comes back to the dust at your feet

having squandered a fortune far away.


And how can you not forgive?

You make a feast in honor of what

was lost, and take from its place the finest

garment, which you saved for an occasion

you could not imagine, and you weep night and day

to know that you were not abandoned,

that happiness saved its most extreme form

for you alone.


No, happiness is the uncle you never 

knew about, who flies a single-engine plane

onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes

into town, and inquires at every door

until he finds you asleep midafternoon

as you so often are during the unmerciful

hours of your despair.


It comes to the monk in his cell.

It comes to the woman sweeping the street

with a birch broom, to the child

whose mother has passed out from drink.

It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing

a sock, to the pusher, to the basket maker,

and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots

in the night.

It even comes to the boulder

in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,

to rain falling on the open sea, 

to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.


—Jane Kenyon



From Blossoms


From blossoms comes

this brown paper bag of peaches

we bought from the boy

at the bend in the road where we turned toward

signs painted Peaches.


From laden boughs, from hands,

from sweet fellowship in the bins,

comes nectar at the roadside, succulent

peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,

comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.


O, to take what we love inside,

to carry within us an orchard, to eat

not only the skin, but the shade,

not only the sugar, but the days, to hold

the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into

the round jubilance of peach.


There are days we live

as if death were nowhere

in the background; from joy

to joy to joy, from wing to wing,

from blossom to blossom to

impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.


—Li-Young Lee



The Lanyard


The other day I was ricocheting slowly

off the blue walls of this room,

moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,

from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,

when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary

where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.


No cookie nibbled by a French novelist

could send one into the past more suddenly—

a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp

by a deep Adirondack lake

learning how to braid long thin plastic strips

into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.


I had never seen anyone use a lanyard

or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,

but that did not keep me from crossing

strand over strand again and again

until I had made a boxy

red and white lanyard for my mother.


She gave me life and milk from her breasts,

and I gave her a lanyard.

She nursed me in many a sick room,

lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,

laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,

and then led me out into the airy light


and taught me to walk and swim,

and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.

Here are thousands of meals, she said,

and here is clothing and a good education.

And here is your lanyard, I replied,

which I made with a little help from a counselor.


Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,

strong legs, bones and teeth,

and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,

and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.

And here, I wish to say to her now,

is a smaller gift—not the worn truth


that you can never repay your mother,

but the rueful admission that when she took

the two-tone lanyard from my hand,

I was as sure as a boy could be

that this useless, worthless thing I wove

out of boredom would be enough to make us even.





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