POETIC DEVICES



 

Alliteration

Repetition of the same consonant sound - particularly at the start of words.

John Keats emphasises several consonant sounds (s, m, f, v, r) in ‘To Autumn’.  The smooth sound of m is particularly played upon to create a rich, autumnal atmosphere.

Season of mists and mellow fruifulness,
Close bosom friend to the maturing sun,
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run

From John Keats, ‘To Autumn’




It is no use simply stating that alliteration occurs within a poem unless you can go on to discuss its effect.  Ask yourself whether it produces a distinctive tone.

In Wilfred Owen’s First World War poem, ‘Exposure’, the snow that blows over the trenches is both fast and bitter:

   …sidelong flowing flakes that flock, pause, and renew

and sinister and furtive:

   Pale flakes with fingering stealth come feeling for our faces





Assonance

Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in adjoining words, or words near to each other, in poetry

But when thou sigh’st, thou sigh’st not wind,
But sigh’st my soul away,
When thou weep’st, unkindly kind
My life’s blood doth decay.

From John Donne, ‘Song’

Assonance helps to create tone.  By repeating the ‘i’ vowel sound, John Donne creates a tone of lamentation and regret.
 In 'Exposure’, Wilfred Owen captures the thudding sound of an artillery barrage by repeating the ‘u’ sound initially used in ‘gunnery’:

Northward, incessantly, the flickering gunnery rumbles,
  Far off, like a dull rumour of some other war.

From Wilfred Owen, ‘Exposure’








Blank verse

Poetry that is written in lines of unrhymed iambic pentameter (see METRE) is called blank verse.  It is very common in English and is often used for telling a story or thinking about ideas and feelings.
 As with all metres, there is little point in commenting on the iambic pattern of blank verse unless you notice interesting variations in it where the poet wants to emphasise a particular word.

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

From Tennyson, ‘Ulysses’

Tennyson tells the story of Ulysses and explores his feelings on growing old.  He subtly varies the iambic pentameter to draw attention to important words (eg ‘not’ in ‘We are not now…’) to emphasise Ulysses’ awareness of his own frailty.
 
 
 

Imagery

Any FIGURATIVE language (metaphors and similes) or descriptive language that appeals to one of the five senses is called an image.  Images make a writer’s ideas concrete, create atmosphere, and build patterns within a poem.
When Duncan, King of Scotland, is murdered, Shakespeare uses very varied imagery to show the situation’s horror:

Confusion now hath made his masterpiece!
Most sacrilegious murder hath broke ope
The Lord’s anointed temple, and stole thence
The life of the building!

‘Confusion’ is like a craftsman, making his ‘masterpiece’; then murder is seen as a thief breaking into a religious building.  In a metaphor, the king’s body is likened to a temple.
 Images can be metaphors, similes, symbols and personification.
 

In Seamus Heaney’s poem ‘Death of a Naturalist’ the imagery is very rich and appeals to the sight (‘green’), hearing (‘gargled delicately’, ‘a strong gauze of sound’) and touch (‘the warm thick slobber/Of frogspawn’).

All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragon-flies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks…

  From ‘Death of a Naturalist’

Metaphor

A way of comparing two things or ideas in which they are fused together so that one effectively becomes the other.

Here, Philip Larkin gives a sense of the impressive size of some trees by comparing them to castles:

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
   Philip Larkin, ‘The Trees’

In Sonnet 116, Shakespeare describes love as ‘the star to every wandering bark’("bark" = a boat). Through the metaphor (love = a star), we see how love’s constancy amidst change and danger is like a star - a fixed point in the sky.
 

Similes

A simile is a way of comparing one thing to another.  Similes are common in both poetry and prose.

Similes always include the words ‘like’ or ‘as’.   In his poem ‘The Warm and the Cold’, Ted Hughes uses a series of similes to depict the way in which animals, birds and insects are perfectly adapted to survive the harshness of cold winter weather:

Freezing dusk has tightened
  Like a nut screwed tight
 On the starry aeroplane
  Of the soaring night.
   But the trout is in its hole
   Like a chuckle in a sleeper
   The hare strays down the highway
   Like a root going deeper.
   The snail is in the outhouse
   Like a seed in a sunflower.
   The owl is on the gatepost
   Like a clock on its tower.

  From, Ted Hughes, ‘The Warm and the Cold’

The simile which opens this verse captures the cold – almost metallic – harshness of the evening: dusk is ‘like a nut screwed tight’.
 
 
 

Metre

Metre is the regular rhythms of poetic lines created by a sequence of stressed or unstressed syllables.
 A recurring unit of stressed and unstressed syllables is called a foot.   Different types of foot have different names:  eg iambic = unstressed + stressed

This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle

This is iambic pentameter. (Pent = 5)  There are five feet in this line:

This roy/al throne/ of kings/, this scep/tered isle
 
 

Rhythm

Poets can use all sorts of rhythms to create effects.  Rhythm in poetry can be fast and lively:

Letters of thanks, letters from banks
Letters of joy from girl and boy

WH Auden, ‘Night Mail’

or surging, suggesting sadness:

Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were

Thomas Hardy, ‘The Voice’






Examples of words you could use to describe rhythms include:
 

awkward    heavy    swaying   tense

lively   brisk   flowing   smooth
 
 
 

Sonnet

Sonnets are poems constructed around  very tight rules of composition. They will generally have:

Couplet - a pair of rhymed lines
Quatrain - four lines of rhyme
Sextet - six lines of rhyme
Octet - eight lines of rhyme

If you look at the following Shakespearean sonnet you can see the general construction:

When my love swears that she is made of truth, (a)
I do believe her, though I know she lies, (b)
That she might think me some ill-tutored youth, (a)
Unlearned in the world's false subtleties. (b)

Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young, (c)
Although she knows my days are past the best, (d)
Simply I credit her false speaking tongue: (c)
On both sides thus is simple truth suppressed. (d)

But wherefore says she not she is unjust? (e)
And wherefore say not I that I am old? (f)
Oh, love's best habit is in seeming trust, (e)
And age in love love's not to have years told. (f)

Therefore I lie with her and she with me, (g)
And in our faults by lies we flattered be. (g)




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