Monday, February 2, 2015

Figurative Langauge in Poetry (Poetry-Writing Series Part 2 of 6)


Though figures of speech can be found in almost any type of literary writing, poetry is the genre most closely associated with figurative language.

A properly conveyed figure of speech adds depth and meaning to a piece of poetry.  It allows the author (and the reader) a deeper sense of understanding with a unique, descriptive element.

Proper figures of speech pose questions, describe things, draw a  comparison between reality and idea, concrete and imagination.   They bring certain points of view to light and generally make us think more deeply on the subject matter they represent.

Perhaps figures of speech are some of the most imaginative and innovative words and ideas of literary writing as they allow us to translate our feelings and experiences in unique and personal ways.

Below are ten most common figures of speech found in poetry.  Below each term, you'll find a small, but substantial, example of the word.


1.  metaphor  is a comparison between two things that are unlike each other, yet can have something deeper in common.

"Love was a washboard, rubbed bare."

2.  implied metaphor  compares to unlike things, but does so without directly mentioning them.

"The angry instructor barked the assignment outline."

3.  direct metaphor  directly says that something is something else.

"I was a lonely relic in a field of fraying summer grass."

4.  simile much like a metaphor, it compares two things that have nothing in common, but uses words like, as, and than to make those comparisons.

"I wrote alone, lonely as the first star of night."

5.  symbolism  happens when one object is used to describe another, usually giving the original word a deeper, and more significant meaning.

"All the world is a stage."

6.  personification giving lifelike characteristics to something that is not alive.

"The ocean swung it's mouth wide."

7.  connotation  a word that can be understood by it's primary meaning, yet associated to a secondary meaning.

A good example of this would be the word home.  Home can mean a house, thought oftentimes it is associated with warmth, acceptance, and love.

8.  idiom  words or phrases that are not to be taken literally, they usually mean something besides what they would appear if they were taken literally.  Each language has it's own idioms.

"Break a leg."  Literally would mean to do yourself bodily harm, in the English language this means

'good luck.'

9.  irony words are used to express something other than the word, usually the opposite meaning of the words used.  Usually seen in satire of humorous writings.  The difference between appearance and reality.

A (huge) dog named Little Guy would be an irony.

10.  pun  is a witty play on words.  Using a word with two different meanings to convey a point.

Revlon's pink hair dye is making headlines for it's blinding effect.


If you are not familiar with these terms it may be helpful to keep them in mind as you read some poetry.   Keep this list close, and as you read, try to identify any of the terms found within each poem. The more you practice, the easier it will be to find these elements in everyday poetry.

In knowing these terms well and how they are constructed, you'll be able to write deeper, more imaginative and reflective pieces of poetry.


Next Monday's Article will entail the exploration of sound in poetry.  Join me then!