Personification in Poetry: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:03 Personification
  • 1:05 Impact on Poetry
  • 1:35 Mirror
  • 2:40 The Walrus & the Carpenter
  • 4:34 Fog
  • 5:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Brittany Cross

Brittany teaches middle school Language Arts and has a master's degree for designing secondary reading curriculum.

Personification is a figurative language technique used by writers as a way to allow something non-human to come to life and express human emotions and actions. In this lesson, we'll look at examples of personification found in poetry.

Personification

Have you ever heard phrases such as, 'The snowflake kissed my nose,' or 'The flowers danced beautifully in the meadow,' and thought to yourself, 'snowflakes don't kiss. . . flowers don't dance. . .?' Unique phrases like these are prime examples of personification. Personification is defined as giving human characteristics to non-human things. When we examine the sentences we just mentioned, we know they are examples of personification because both snowflakes and flowers are non-human objects that were depicted as performing human actions: kissing and dancing.

Personification is a type of figurative language, which is not meant to be taken factually or literally. Although flowers don't actually having legs and dance around meadows, the writer uses figurative language to describe how they move in the wind. It creates an image in the reader's mind in a more engaging way. Simply saying 'the flowers blew in the wind' might not achieve the same effect.

Impact on Poetry

Personification is used in many types of writing, including poetry. So, why do poets choose to incorporate this technique? Well, when they use figurative language, poets rely on it to create strong images in the mind of the reader. Personification in poetry not only makes it more engaging and visually appealing to the reader but also contributes to the central idea or mood of the poem. Let's examine a few poems that use personification effectively, yet for different purposes.

'Mirror'

The poem 'Mirror' by Sylvia Plath is an excellent representation of a poem told entirely from the point of view of a non-human object: a mirror. While we understand that a mirror does not have emotions or complete actions, in this poem it does. Take a look at these lines taken from different parts of the poem:

  • 'I am silver and exact.'
  • 'I have no preconceptions.'
  • 'Whatever you see I swallow immediately.'
  • 'I am not cruel, only truthful - '
  • 'Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.'
  • 'I see her back and reflect it faithfully.'
  • 'She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.'

As we read these lines, we can see that because the poet chose to personify the mirror, the central idea behind the poem is what a mirror conveys to the one who looks into it. Additionally, the mirror uses words such as 'exact,' 'truthful,' and 'faithful,' which gives the poem a neutral and detached mood. Personification aids the poet in conveying these elements in an artful and expressive way.

'The Walrus and the Carpenter'

Now, let's explore the use of personification in 'The Walrus and the Carpenter' by Lewis Carroll. You may recognize him as the author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. He was a somewhat peculiar writer who relied on a lot of imagination and make-believe and who used personification to humanize both animals and objects.

In the anecdotal poem 'The Walrus and the Carpenter,' Lewis Carroll personifies many non-human objects such as the sun, moon, walrus, and oysters. It's a complete nonsensical about a walrus and a carpenter tricking oysters to come out of the ocean so that they can eat them for lunch. Here's an example about the moon and the sun:

'The sun was shining on the sea,
shining with all his might:
he did his very best to make
the billows smooth and bright - '

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