Examples of Poems with Hyperbole

Instructor: Lindsey Coley
This lesson will feature a discussion about what hyperbole is, how it works with figurative language, and how it is used in poetry. Included are examples of poetry that contain hyperbolic language.

A Crazy Thing Called Hyperbole!

Have you ever heard someone say they were so hungry they could chew their own arm off? Or maybe that they were so hungry they could eat a horse? Now have you ever seen anyone do either of those things? Unless you were part of the Donner party in 1846, hopefully not!

These kinds of statements are called hyperbole. When a person uses hyperbole, they are exaggerating to emphasize a point. They were never really intending to eat a horse or chew their arm off. The true meaning of their statement is that this person is very, very hungry. (Though it might be best to stay out of their way just in case, right?!)

Hyperbole and Figurative Language

Hyperbole is created through the use of figurative language, which is language that has meaning beyond what the words plainly say. Take our earlier example about someone being so hungry they could eat a horse. Because we know that person doesn't want to actually eat a horse, we have to figure out what they really mean. Since they are talking about eating a very large animal, we can figure out what they really mean. They are incredibly hungry. They've used figurative language through an example of hyperbole to describe that hunger.

The Use of Hyperbole in Poetry

Hyperbole in poetry or literature is when a statement is exaggerated to affect the reader, make an image stand out, or to get a point across more strongly.

For example, maybe you are the poet and you are writing about a really bad day you had. You want the reader to understand how thoroughly miserable it was, but you really need to drive the point home and pull the reader into your misery. Saying it was a terrible, horrible day just doesn't cut it. Anyone can say, 'Hey, I had a really terrible, horrible day.' It stinks, but it probably won't stick with another person for very long. You might instead say it was a day full of clouds so black they crawled into the trees and clung to the ground and whispered evil things.

Now we know clouds aren't living creatures. They don't have mouths, brains, hands, intentions, etc. Clouds can't willfully choose to cling or to crawl along the trees or ground. But we can understand through this hyperbolic image that something awful happened that day. The image we see is very ominous and sticks with the reader in a very visceral and emotional way. We've all seen a storm come in and the blackness of the clouds. This image builds from something we know into the idea of something worse than that to create knowledge that the writer must mean it is a horrible day they are describing. This idea comes from hyperbole.

Examples of Hyperbole in Poetry

One of the most common uses of hyperbole in poetry is to exaggerate the idea of love or beauty. W.H. Auden writes in his poem 'As I Walked Out One Evening' that he will love the subject of the poem 'Till China and Africa meet.'

Can you imagine loving someone until China and Africa meet? Probably not, because you are hopefully aware that China and Africa are in two different places that will not come together in a lifetime we know of. Auden is telling us his love will last until an impossible thing happens. Through hyperbole we can clearly gather that he will love the other person for a very long time. His hyperbole captures our attention and imagination and drives home the idea of his love being grand and enduring.

Another example of hyperbole in poetry can be found in Edna St. Vincent Millay's 'What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why.' She writes, 'the rain/ Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh/ Upon the glass and listen for reply.'

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