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Poetic Devices: Definition, Types & Examples

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  • 0:03 Definition
  • 0:33 Rhythm Devices
  • 3:34 Devices to Enhance Meaning
  • 5:45 Devices to Intensify Mood
  • 9:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kara Wilson

Kara Wilson is a 6th-12th grade English and Drama teacher. She has a B.A. in Literature and an M.Ed, both of which she earned from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

There are many types of poetic devices that can be used to create a powerful, memorable poem. In this lesson, we are going to learn about these devices and look at examples of how they are used. We will also discuss their purpose to understand the importance of using them effectively.

Definition

Poetry can follow a strict structure, or none at all, but many different types of poems use poetic devices. Poetic devices are tools that a poet can use to create rhythm, enhance a poem's meaning, or intensify a mood or feeling. These devices help piece the poem together, much like a hammer and nails join planks of wood together. Some of these devices are used in literature as well, but for the sake of clarity, we will look at all of these devices through the lens of poetry.

Devices That Create Rhythm

Let's start with some of the devices that can be used to create rhythm, including repetition, syllable variation, and rhyming.

In poetry, repetition is repeating words, phrases, or lines. For example, Edgar Allen Poe's poem 'The Bells' repeats the word 'bells.' By doing so, Poe creates a sing-song rhythm similar to that of bells ringing.

To the swinging and the ringing
of the bells, bells, bells--

A unit of poetic meter, also known as a foot, consists of various combinations of stressed and unstressed syllables. There are several types of feet in poetry, and they can all be used to create rhythm. One example is an anapest. An anapest consists of two unaccented syllables with an accented one right after it, such as com-pre-HEND or in-ter-VENE.

An anapestic meter creates rhythm in Byron's poem 'The Destruction of Sennacherib.' Read the lines and count out the syllables, noting how every third syllable is the accented one. Anapestic meter is challenging to craft, but it creates a powerful rhythmic flow as seen below.

And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

The reverse of an anapest is a dactyl. It is a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed ones, such as FLUT-ter-ing or BLACK-ber-ry. Tennyson's poem 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' uses dactyl meter. As you read the lines, you'll notice that the poet consistently follows the pattern of one stressed syllable then two unstressed syllables.

Forward, the Light Brigade!
Half a league, half a league

Rhyming is another common poetic device used to create rhythm. There are several types of rhyming devices.

One example is a couplet, or two rhymed lines that are together and may or may not stand alone within a poem. Shakespeare's sonnets end in couplets, as in his Sonnet 29. Shakespeare's couplet below consists of two lines that have end rhyme because of the words 'brings' and 'kings.'

For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Another example of rhyming in poetry is internal rhyme, which is a rhyme that typically occurs within the same line of poetry. Edgar Allen Poe's 'The Raven' uses internal rhyme with the words 'dreary' and 'weary':

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary

Unlike an internal rhyme, an end rhyme occurs when two words at the end of lines rhyme. Emily Dickinson's poem 'A Word' uses end rhyme by rhyming the words 'dead' and 'said' at the end of the lines.

A word is dead
When it is said

Devices That Enhance Meaning

There are many devices that can enhance the meaning of a poem. A simile is a comparison between two unlike things. Similes use the words 'like' or 'as.' A simile can get the reader to look at something in a different way. In 'Harlem,' Langston Hughes compares a dream deferred to a raisin using the word 'like.' His comparison encourages the reader to look at raisins and dreams postponed in a new way.

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun

In contrast to a simile, a metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things without using the words like or as. A metaphor uses the senses and compares two things in a meaningful way. John Donne's poem 'The Sun Rising' uses a powerful metaphor:

She is all states, and all princes, I.

Through this comparison, Donne is saying that his beloved is richer than all states, while he is richer than the princes because of their love, and he does not use 'like' or 'as' in his comparison.

Many poets also use a symbol, or an object that means more than itself and represents something else. In Robert Frost's poem 'The Road Not Taken,' he talks about deciding which path to take when coming to a fork in the road. The fork and the two routes that result symbolize choices in life, a specific decision that must be made, etc. So, the actual road that he describes represents something much greater that what it is.

Poets may also use imagery, or words to create an image in the reader's mind. Imagery is based on our five senses, though visual imagery is used the most. The images contribute to a poem's meaning. In William Wordsworth's poem 'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,' his emotions build with the images he creates. Notice how Wordsworth's lines create images in your head because of the specific details that he uses, thereby creating imagery.

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;

Devices That Intensify Mood

Some devices are used solely to intensify the mood of the poem. An example is a hyperbole, an exaggeration that is used for dramatic effect. John Donne uses hyperbole in his poem 'Song: Go and Catch a Falling Star.'

Ride ten thousand days and nights,
'Til age snow white hairs on thee,

Obviously, ten thousand days and nights might be a bit of an exaggeration (as is claiming that we'll be white-haired by the time the journey is over), but the point gets across: a long, long time will pass.

Onomatopoeia is another good example. This device uses words that resemble or imitate sounds. Words like 'bang' and 'boom' could add to the intensity of a poem as those sounds could be reminiscent of war or violence, whereas words/sounds like 'tweet' or 'purr' could add to a tranquil feeling within a poem about the calming effects of nature.

Personification, or giving a non-living thing qualities of something that is alive, can also magnify mood. If a poet describes the sun as 'angrily beating down on the people below,' negative feelings are heightened. But, if the poet says the 'sun smiled down on the people, gently warming them,' then positive feelings of contentment are conveyed through the use of personification. Of course, the sun can't actually beat down on people, but personifying it means the poet makes it behave like it's a living thing with a personality.

Alliteration, or repeating consonant sounds at the beginning of words, shapes how the poem sounds when read aloud, and can add to the poem's feeling because some consonants have harsher sounds, while others are more pleasing or calming to hear. For example, the 's' or the 'sh' sounds are more pleasing while the sounds of 'b' or 'g' are often more sharp sounding.

Tongue twisters use alliteration: Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. Notice how the 'p' sound is repeated at the beginning of multiple words in that line.

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