Poetic Devices

Alliteration – the repetition of initial consonant sounds of several words in a group.  It is often used in poetry to emphasize and to link words as well as to create pleasing, musical sounds. (“Out from the marsh, from the foot of misty/ Hills and bogs, bearing God’s hatred, Grendel came.” Beowulf)

Allusion – a reference to a well-known person, place, event, literary work or work of art.  Allusions often come from the Bible, classical Greek and Roman myths, plays by Shakespeare, historical or political events and other materials authors expect their readers to know.

Imagery  is the descriptive language used in literature to recreate sensory experiences relating to sight, taste, touch, hearing and smell. Imagery enriches writing by making it more vivid, setting a tone, suggesting emotions and guiding the reader’s reaction.

Metaphor  is a comparison between two unlike things without using “like” or “as.”  “Time’s winged chariot” is a metaphor in which the swift passage of time is compared to a speeding chariot.  An extended metaphor is one that is developed at length and involves several points of comparison.  A mixed metaphor occurs when two are jumbled together (thorns and rain as in “the thorns of life rained down on him.”  A dead metaphor is one that is overused.

Mood – or atmosphere, is the feeling created in the reader by a literary work or passage. The mood is YOUR reaction and feeling to a work; the tone is the WRITER’s attitude.  Writers create mood through the following: connotation, details, dialogue, imagery, figurative language, foreshadowing, setting and rhythm.

Onomatopoeia – use of words whose sounds echo their meanings, such as buzz, whisper, gargle and murmur.

Oxymoron – a combination of contradictory terms or ideas (“loving hate” in Romeo and Juliet.)

Paraphrase – is a restatement in different words.  One is not to alter the meaning of the words, merely translate what the writer has said into equivalent words of one’s own.

Repetition – is a technique in which a sound, word, phrase or line is repeated for emphasis or unity.

Rhyme – Words rhyme when the sounds of their accented vowels and all succeeding sounds are identical, as in amuse and confuse.

Simile – a figure of speech that compares two things that are basically unlike yet have something in common with the use of “like” or “as.”

Symbol – is a person, place, object or activity that stands for something beyond itself.  Night to represent death is a common symbol.

Theme – is a central idea or message in a work of literature.  Theme should not be confused with subject or what the work is about.  Rather, theme is a perception about life or human nature shared with the reader.

Tone – is an expression of a writer’s attitude toward a subject.  Unlike mood, which is intended to shape the reader’s emotional response, tone reflects the feelings of the writer. The writer’s choice of words and details helps establish the tone, which might be serious, humorous, sarcastic, playful, ironic, bitter or objective.

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