Poetry is the expression of feelings and thoughts that cannot be achieved with prose. But what gives poetry the essence of poetry? What makes it different? There are many things to contribute to that and one of those is the literary devices in poetry. Literary devices are elements that add to the beauty of poetry.
Literary devices do no add anything to the overall meaning of the poem, but they enhance it. These devices allow the poet to present it in a new way and a delightful surprise to the readers. So we made a comprehensive list of literary devices used in English poetry along with their definition and examples. Let’s begin.
List of all the literary devices
- Refrain – repetition in a single line
- Kenning – Mouse catcher to call a cat
- Slant rhyme
The meaning of these devices
Assonance – Assonance is the repetition of the same vowel sounds continuously in a single line or in a couplet. Assonance adds to the sonority of the poem, making it very pleasing to hear. To also adds to the rhythm of the poem.
Example: I believed to live in her presence but what I see, is something contrary or Heaven’s rain, and for what gain if every misery is to remain the same?
Consonance – Consonance is the repetition of the consonant sound in the same line or in the sentence. Similar to assonance, consonance adds to the sound and rhythm of the poem. Do note that these consonants must be similar in sound, so “k” and “c” will create consonance. Also, these consonants aren’t necessarily placed at the beginning of the words and can occur anywhere in the same line. This is what makes consonance different from alliteration.
Example: The lake cut the sky in two, one for the heavens and one for us to take.
Alliteration: This is perhaps the poet’s most useful device to create a beautiful sounding poem. Again, as the pattern is going, alliteration is similar to consonance and assonance but with one small difference. In alliteration, consecutive words or words placed very close together start with the same sound. Here, the same sound must be at the beginning of the word.
Example: A nightmare that nurtured the night makes one eager for the sun. Selling seashells in a secluded shore.
Sibilance: Sibilance is also very common to alliteration. Here, a hissing sound that is produced by using the letter “s” repeatedly, like Harry speaking parseltongue or the sound you make to get a cat’s attention (pspsps). Look the word “Sibilance” which has two “s” sound. The word is an example of itself.
Example: A sweeter society waited for me, while loneliness crafted storms and I was collecting shells alone.
Metaphor: Perhaps the most used literary devices in all forms of poetry is a metaphor. The reason for this widespread use of metaphor in poetry is it evokes a sense of connection between two seemingly different things, allowing us a new perspective.
A metaphor compares two things that are not literally related in any way. This new connection makes us view things in a different way. Metaphors are something that is engraved in our minds since we are kids. Twinkle twinkle little stars…like a diamond in the sky. This is the use of metaphor. In almost all the poems, metaphor is bound to be present.
Metaphors can be obvious, like saying “her hands were as cold as ice” where cold is the common trait, connecting two literal different things. It can be vague; Emily Dickinson in her poem “Because I could not stop for Death” saying death’s carriage stopped for her gently and he came in a civil way. This denotes the arrival of a painless death which no is prepared for.
Metaphors are not just present in poems but in common speech as well. You go through the book, you can fight the world, nothing can separate two lovers. Metaphors allow us to convey ourselves eloquently where words leave their literal meaning and add emotions to them.
Imagery: Imagery is used to create images in the reader’s mind with the use of words. It is used both in poetry and storytelling. Imagery allows the readers to be present in the narrative world of the story or poem. Wordsworth said he saw a “host of golden daffodils, besides the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze” creates an image in the readers’ mind, enabling us to see what he once saw.
Example: The sunset, casting a crimson glow in the sky. A fitting farewell the sun gives us as he dies.
Enjambment: Enjambment is when a line in a stanza ends with an unnatural pause. Instead of ending a line where it is supposed to be, it moves to the next line in the middle. Enjambment is done to present the mood of the poem. It can also add a rhythm to the poem, assisting in adding a unique rhyming. Example:
He saw her face with nothing
But a sense of longing
Desperate desires took a hold
Of him, telling tales of old…
Rhyme: Rhyme and poetry go hand in hand. It is one of the most defining features of poetry, separating it from prose and a common speech. Rhyming is diverse and can be in any form, meter, etc. Words can rhyme alternatively, consecutively, or even in the same line. Even entire stanzas can mirror other stanzas in rhyming pattern. Rhyming provides a great tool for experimentation with the form of poetry. Remove the rhyme and it becomes freeverse, keep the rhyme in a particular order and it becomes lyrical.
There are schemes of rhyming which are denoted as ABAB, ABCB, etc where the same letters denote the same rhyme. Rhyming can also occur in single lines within a stanza. Example:
The lamentable life we live
Nothing but the pain it gives
So must we keep going
Even if in upstream, must we keep rowing?
Mood: Mood is very similar to imagery, but instead of creating images of physical objects in the readers’ minds, the poet shows what he is feeling in regards to the things he sees. Seeing a field full of flowers can be used in imagery, but feeling a sense of longing, joy or gratefulness is what sets the mood.
In Daffodils, Wordsworth is setting a mood of joy, love for nature, and being present at the moment to see all that, being a small, fleeting presence in this sea of life. In The Road Not Taken, Frost creates imagery using the roads, the trodden path, etc but the mood here reflects the journey he is going to take, the life he is going to choose. It is speculative, prone to failure or success, it is about choosing your path.
Tone: If imagery was about the physical things being described and the mood was the feelings these things evoked, the tone is how the poet narrated the whole thing, the choice of words used in the poem. The words can be pessimistic, optimistic, sarcastic, etc. Tone, imagery, and mood are very closely knit and affect each other tremendously.
Example: In Daffodils, Wordsworth uses words like fluttering and dancing, golden, wandering, etc. These words reflect the tone of the poem and the poet’s mood.
Apostrophe: Literary device commonly used during the middle ages and during the Romanticism phase of poetry. A single letter is replaced with an apostrophe without changing the sound of the voice too much. In Daffodils, Wordsworth replaced “r” in “over” making the line “That floats on high o’er vales and hills”
Hyperbole: Hyperbole is like a metaphor but instead of comparing two different things based on a common trait, hyperbole is exaggerating a particular quality of something to impossible levels. Wordsworth calling daffodils golden is a metaphor (the color being the common trait of the two). But saying “my heart skipped a beat and reached the moon” is a hyperbole. “Faith as strong and stern as the mountains” is another example of hyperbole.
Metonymy: Metonymy is the use of words to represent something the words are associated with. Usually, these words represent a trait or part of the entire object or process but the similarity and reference it evokes brings meaning. Let’s say I say that the road was bleak, dark, and grey while it was surrounded by the green. You can understand that green here refers to trees. Metonymy used a part or quality of the whole to define it.
Simile: We’ve all learned about simile in middle school. Again, it is another form comparison to show how the poet perceives the subject. It could be in a positive or negative way. Her eyes were as warm as the sun showing love and hope. Her eyes burned as fierce as the sun shows determination or rage.
Onomatopoeia: Comic book fans must have seen it often. Onomatopoeia is the use of words that are also sound. Words like “buzz” or “hum” have the same sound as their spelling.
Symbolism: Symbolism is done by using an object to symbolize something more complex. Symbolism is not limited to poetry. In fact, it is the least used in poetry and mostly used in stories, movies, etc. A white dove carrying an olive branch symbolizes peace. Another example is thunder representing truth in Emily Dickinson’s Tell the Truth poem.
Synecdoche: another name for metonymy. It is representing something by describing an attribute of it. The context does the rest of defining.
Allusion: Allusion is used when a reference is given in a poem and the readers are expected to know the reference. A common example of this is poetry by Yeats or Blake who uses multiple references from mythology. Homer’s works also have multiple references to Greek mythology.
Theme: Theme is the overarching subject of the poem. It could be a love poem, a patriotic one, a poem about nihilism, a poem about the misery of humans, etc. The theme of the poem can be anything you want to write about.
Personification: Personification is when an object, an emotion, or a process is portrayed as a human. This is commonly done by giving human attributes and emotions to something inanimate, something abstract. In Dickinson’s “because I could not stop for death”, she personifies death as being a civilized person.
Perhaps after metaphor, personification is the most used literary device in poetry. Frost has used personification in many of his poems, one being Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.
Anaphora: Anaphora is the repetition of a phrase or a word consecutively to stress on the importance and impact of the phrase or word. An example of anaphora can be seen in the poem Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening. In the last stanza, Frost writes;
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Notice how using anaphora, the gravity of the last two lines is amplified. This is the hook of the poem and perhaps one of the most important and powerful lines in modern poetry.
Refrain: Refrain is very similar to anaphora and sometimes both are used interchangeably. The refrain can be further defined as the repetition of a single word or phrase in the same line. An example would be the brilliant poem Do not go Gentle into that Good Night by Dylan Thomas. The last line of the first stanza says Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Here, using rage twice is an example of the refrain.
Oxymoron: Oxymoron refers to the use of two opposite words together. An example would be “lonely together”. Notice how one cannot be lonely when they are with someone. Another example would be “joyful tragedy”. Oxymoron is used to describe complex, mixed emotions and they add a special dimension to the poem.
Kenning: Kenning is the process of describing something by not its name but by its popular use or purpose. So a cat could be called a mouse catcher or a horse could be said as a carriage puller.
Slant rhyme: As the name suggests, slant rhyme is rhyming which is not perfect and it is an advanced technique of rhyming. The words do not rhyme perfectly, but good enough to make it sound like a rhyming poem. An example of this is Emily Dickinson’s Tell the Truth. Look at these lines;
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
Lies and delight do not rhyme exactly, but with the flow and the sound, they form a slanting rhyme.
Cacophony: The term cacophony means an unpleasant sound. This occurs in poems that do not rhyme at all, have no discernable meter. The use of cacophony can evoke a sense of chaos, unease, and tension in the readers’ minds.
Contrast: Contrast is when two scenes, depictions, emotions, etc are put together in the same poem. This is also an advanced literary device and gives poems a lot of depth and meaning. Frost is famous for using contrast in many of his poems. The Road not Taken has a contrasting use of free will and determinism, Fire and Ice also puts the two emotions in contrast and then shows the similarity in them (read about it here if you’re interested).
A very simple example of this would be saying that Her absences mended all my faults that her presence had instilled in me, the smile was already gone, it was the pain that was setting in.
Litotes: Litotes is the use of negative comments to show the affirmative side. It is kind of like denying the faults to show the positive side of it? Like saying “this car does not consume too much fuel” which means that it is a fuel-efficient car.
This concludes the article. There may be one or two left from this list but that’s because they are rarely used or fall under very right niches of poetry. These are the mainstream literary devices and are most beloved to both classic and modern poets alike. You can read some more articles related to this article;