Composing poetry is a daunting task that demands not only a poet's emotional prowess but also an aptitude for manipulating the language in which it is written. The English language, along with its literature, has undergone significant transformations over the last century, rendering it an intricate and complex tool for poets to wield. Poets employ a myriad of literary devices, and it would be fair to say that all writers, be they poets, dramatists, or novelists, depend on these tools to some extent to convey their message. Hence, with the evolution of the English language and literature, there have been corresponding developments in literary devices and poetic techniques, which writers have embraced and skillfully integrated into their literary works.Here, we present a compilation of some frequently used literary and poetic devices that are ubiquitous in the works of all writers:
1. AlliterationAlliteration is a literary device that involves the repetition of the initial sound of each word. It is often employed by poets to create a specific kind of rhyming scheme in their works, although it can sometimes impede the flow of the poem and make it difficult for readers to read. Here are a couple of additional examples:
- Sally sold seashells by the seashore.
- Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
2. AllusionAllusion is a literary device that poets and writers use to refer to something indirectly, often through a reference to a historical event, person, or work of art. This technique allows the writer to draw on the associations and emotions that the reader may already have with the alluded-to subject, adding depth and richness to the work.
Here are two more examples of allusion in literature:
3. AmbiguityAmbiguity is a powerful tool for poets and writers, allowing them to create multiple meanings and interpretations in their work. This can be achieved through the use of words with multiple meanings, sentence structures that can be interpreted in different ways, or intentional vagueness in descriptions or characterizations. While ambiguity can be frustrating for readers seeking a clear and definitive meaning, it can also add depth and complexity to a literary work, allowing for multiple layers of interpretation.
Here are two examples of ambiguity in literature:
4. AnalogyAnalogy is a powerful poetic device that allows poets to create vivid imagery and comparisons in their work. By drawing connections between familiar and unfamiliar things, analogies can help readers better understand and relate to the themes and ideas presented in a poem. Whether it's a comparison between two objects, events, or emotions, analogies can add depth and complexity to a poem's meaning.
Here are two more examples of analogies in literature:
5. AssonanceAssonance is a versatile poetic device that can be used in many different ways. Poets often use it to create internal rhymes and patterns within a poem, which can help to reinforce the meaning of the text or add a sense of musicality and rhythm to the work. Additionally, assonance can be used to create a particular mood or tone, depending on the sound that is being repeated.
One of the key differences between assonance and other poetic devices such as alliteration or consonance is that assonance focuses on the repetition of vowel sounds, rather than consonant sounds. This can give it a more subtle and understated effect, as the repeated sounds are not as noticeable as with other devices.
Here are two more examples of assonance in literature:
6. CacophonyCacophony is often used to convey a negative or chaotic tone in a poem or literary work. It can also be used to create an atmosphere of discomfort or unease. The use of harsh or discordant sounds can make the reader feel unsettled and contribute to the overall mood of the piece.
Another example of cacophony can be seen in T.S. Eliot's poem "The Waste Land":
“Twit twit twitHere, the repetition of the words "twit" and "jug" creates a jarring and discordant effect, contributing to the bleak and desolate tone of the poem.
Jug jug jug jug jug jug
So rudely forc'd.”
Similarly, in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Bells," the use of harsh consonant sounds creates a cacophonous effect:
"Hear the sledges with the bells--The repetition of the "k" sound in "tinkle" and the "s" sound in "sledges" and "bells" creates a jarring and discordant effect, contributing to the ominous and foreboding tone of the poem.
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!"
7. ConnotationConnotation refers to the implied or suggested meaning of a word, beyond its literal definition. It is the emotional or cultural associations that a word carries, which can be either positive or negative.
Two examples of connotation are:
8. ContrastContrast is a literary device that highlights the differences between two or more things. It is often used in poetry to create vivid imagery and emphasize certain qualities. Two examples of contrast are:
Robert Frost's poem "Fire and Ice":In this poem, Frost contrasts fire and ice to represent two opposing forces that could bring about the end of the world. Fire is associated with passion and desire, while ice represents coldness and detachment.
"Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire."
Emily Dickinson's poem "Success is counted sweetest":
"Success is counted sweetestIn this poem, Dickinson contrasts success and failure to suggest that those who have never experienced success may actually appreciate it more. The contrast between success and failure is used to explore the idea of the value of success.
By those who ne'er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need."
Overall, contrast is a powerful literary device that can be used to create vivid imagery and emphasize certain qualities.
9. EuphonyEuphony is a literary device used to create pleasing and melodious sounds in language, often achieved through the use of harmonious combinations of words, syllables, and consonants. Here are two additional examples of euphony in literature:
"Ode to a Nightingale" by John Keats
"Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!The repeated use of soft consonants like "thou," "wast," and "hear" creates a harmonious and melodious effect in this stanza.
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown"
"The Lake Isle of Innisfree" by W.B. Yeats
"And live alone in the bee-loud glade."The repetition of the "l" and "d" sounds in "bee-loud glade" creates a pleasant and soothing effect, contributing to the overall peaceful mood of the poem.
10. HyperboleHyperbole is a figure of speech that involves the use of exaggeration to emphasize a point or make an idea more dramatic. It is often used in literature and poetry to create a powerful or humorous effect.
Here are examples of hyperbole:
From "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot:
11. ImageryImagery is a literary device that uses sensory details to create mental images or sensory experiences for the reader. It is used to make the language of a literary work more vivid, descriptive, and memorable. (Read: Five Types of Imagery) Two examples of imagery are:
"The woods are lovely, dark and deep,(Robert Frost, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening")
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."
In this poem, the words "lovely", "dark", and "deep" paint a mental picture of the woods, while the mention of "snowy evening" appeals to the reader's sense of touch and sight.
"She walks in beauty, like the night(Lord Byron, "She Walks in Beauty")
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes"
In this poem, the words "night", "climes", "starry skies", and "dark and bright" evoke a sense of beauty, while the use of "aspect" and "eyes" appeal to the reader's sense of sight.
12. ironyirony can be defined as the use of words or situations to convey a meaning that is opposite to its literal or expected meaning. It is a rhetorical device used to create humor, emphasize a point, or to criticize something indirectly.
Two more examples of irony are:
13. OnomatopoeiaOnomatopoeia is a poetic device where words are used to imitate natural sounds or sounds of things that they describe. It is a technique that appeals to the sense of hearing and creates an auditory image in the mind of the reader.
In this sentence, the word "buzzing" imitates the sound that bees make. It creates a sensory experience for the reader, making them feel like they are surrounded by buzzing bees. Example 2:
In this sentence, the word "rustled" imitates the sound of leaves moving in the wind. It helps the reader to imagine the scene more vividly and feel the atmosphere of the gentle breeze.
15. OxymoronOxymoron is a literary device in which contradictory words are combined in a single phrase or expression, to create a paradoxical effect or emphasize a point. It is a figure of speech that often creates a dramatic or humorous impact. In addition to Milton's famous use of "darkness visible," here are two other examples of oxymoron:
16. ParadoxParadox is a literary device that employs contradictory statements or concepts to reveal a deeper truth. It is often used by poets to create an intellectual puzzle that challenges the reader's expectations. For example:
17. PersonificationPersonification is a literary device in which human qualities or characteristics are attributed to non-human entities or objects. This technique is often used by poets to create a deeper connection between the reader and the subject of the poem.
Here are two more examples of personification:
The wind whispered secrets through the trees.In these examples, the wind and the sun are given human qualities of whispering and smiling, respectively.
The sun smiled down on the field of flowers.
18. PunA pun is a form of wordplay in which a poet uses a word or phrase that has multiple meanings or sounds similar to another word but has a different meaning. It is often used to create a humorous or ironic effect. For example:
19. RhymeRhyme is a popular poetic device that involves the repetition of similar sounding words, usually at the end of each line. Poets use rhyme to create a musical and rhythmic effect in their work. For example, consider the following lines from William Shakespeare's Sonnet 18:
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?In this excerpt, the words "day" and "temperate" and "May" and "date" are examples of end rhyme.
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Another type of rhyme is internal rhyme, which occurs within a single line of poetry. For instance, in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven," he writes:
And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtainIn this example, "uncertain" and "curtain" are examples of internal rhyme, as they share the same vowel sound in the same line of poetry.
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
Finally, there is also slant rhyme, which involves words that have similar but not identical sounds. For example, in Emily Dickinson's poem "Because I could not stop for Death," she writes:
We slowly drove – He knew no hasteIn this example, "haste" and "civility" are examples of slant rhyme, as they share similar sounds but not identical ones.
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For His Civility
20. SimileSimile is a literary device in which the poet compares two unlike things by using the words "like" or "as" to create a vivid image in the reader's mind. The purpose of simile is to create a stronger connection between the reader and the object being described by drawing a parallel to something that is familiar or easily understood.
Examples of simile are:
21. MetaphorMetaphor is a figurative language device that compares two different things, but without using "like" or "as" as in a simile. Instead, a metaphor directly states that one thing is another, suggesting a non-literal similarity between them. This device is commonly used in poetry to convey abstract ideas or emotions through concrete imagery.
Two examples of metaphor are:
22. SymbolismSymbolism is a literary device that uses symbols, which are objects, people, or actions that represent something beyond their literal meaning, to convey abstract ideas and emotions in a deeper and more profound way. The use of symbolism allows writers to express complex concepts, themes, and messages without directly stating them.
Examples of Symbolism in Literature:
Overall, symbolism is an important literary technique that can add depth and meaning to a work of literature.
23. Rhetorical QuestionA rhetorical question is a figure of speech that is often used in speeches, poetry, and literature to make a point or emphasize a statement. It is a question that is posed to an audience, but the speaker or writer does not expect an actual response. Instead, the question is asked to make the audience think or to convey a specific message.
Here are two additional examples of rhetorical questions:
This question is used to make the audience question their own judgment of Caesar's character and to persuade them to take Antony's side.
In Langston Hughes' poem "Harlem," he asks a series of rhetorical questions to convey the idea of deferred dreams:
"What happens to a dream deferred?These questions are asked to make the reader contemplate the consequences of unfulfilled dreams and the impact it can have on an individual or society.
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
24. ConceitA conceit is a literary device that creates an imaginative connection between two very unlike things through an elaborate and often improbable comparison. It is commonly used in poetry and is often associated with similes, extended metaphors, and allegories.
The term "conceit" is connected to the word "concept." During the Renaissance, it referred to an imaginative and whimsical expression because of its poetic use. Alternatively, the term conceit also refers to an unlikely situation or premise that propels the narrative in a text.
Types of ConceitsThere are two main types of conceit: Petrarchan and metaphysical.
Petrarchan ConceitThe Petrarchan conceit, popularized by Italian classic poet Francesco Petrarch, uses hyperbole, simile, and metaphor to discuss an object of affection, often using extended metaphors to center the poem around this conceit.
One example of Petrarchan conceit is found in William Shakespeare's "Sonnet 18" in which he compares his lover's beauty to a summer's day:
"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date."
Metaphysical ConceitThe metaphysical conceit takes the Petrarchan conceit further, deliberately selecting unexpected comparisons. These comparisons challenge the reader to determine the expression's meaning and understand the intellectual argument the poet is making. This type of conceit also uses hyperbole, simile, and metaphor.
One example of metaphysical conceit can be found in John Donne's "The Flea," where he uses the image of a flea to argue for the consummation of love:
"Mark but this flea, and mark in this,Another example of metaphysical conceit is found in Donne's "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," in which he compares two lovers' souls to twin compasses:
How little that which thou deniest me is;
It sucked me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be."
"If they be two, they are two soExamples of Conceit in Literature
As stiff twin compasses are two,
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
To move, but doth if the other do."
John Donne, "The Sun Rising"
"Busy old fool, unruly sun,George Herbert, "Love"
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us?"
"Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything."
25. CaesuraCaesura is a literary device used in poetry to create a pause or a break in the verse. It can be used to add emphasis, to create tension, or to give the reader a moment to reflect on what has been said. Here are two more examples of Caesura:
To be, or not to be, || that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing, end them? || To die: to sleep;
Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and specter-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs;
Where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.
26. EnjambmentEnjambment is a poetic device in which a phrase, clause, or sentence flows over from one line of verse to the next without a pause or a break. This technique is used to create a sense of continuity, to connect ideas across multiple lines, and to create a sense of anticipation in the reader by withholding a full stop or a clear resolution. Enjambment can also be used to create tension and ambiguity by allowing multiple meanings or interpretations of a phrase.
Do I dareExample 2:
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—