Poetic Devices

August 11, 2015

Poetry has emotion, imagery, significance, beauty, dignity, rhythm, sometimes rhyme, a arrangements which can include inversion, and concreteness. One way to attain the qualities so essential to making words poetic is through the use of poetic devices.

Below are the more commonly used poetic devices and terms. 

These examples were written and copyrighted by Vivian Zabel

Poetry devices (a major sampling):

Alliteration: the repetition of a beginning sound

Rain reigns roughly through the day.

Raging anger from the sky

Partners prattle of tormented tears

From clouds wondering why

Lightning tears their souls apart.


In the first two lines, the r sound is repeated. In the third line p starts two adjoining words, as does t. Can you find another?


Allusion: a reference to someone or something in history or literature (which may create a mental picture)

A Common Woman


No Helen of Troy she,

Taking the world by war,

But a woman in plain paper wrapped

With a heart of love untapped,

She waits, yearning for her destiny

Whether it be a he on a charger white

Or one riding behind a garbage truck.

Perhaps instead a room of students

Lurks in the shadows of her life

Needing her interest to be shown.

Yet other concerns may call

No, no Helen of Troy she,

But a woman set the world to tame

Wherever she may be.


Helen of Troy brings to mind a woman so beautiful that two countries went to war over her. This is an allusion (reference) to Helen of Troy in Greek mythology. She was the Princess of Troy and the cause of the Trojan War. 


Analogy: the comparison of two things by explaining one to show how it is similar to the other

Day's Journey


The day dawns as a journey.

First one leaves the station on a train,

Rushing past other places

Without a pause or stop,

Watching faces blur through the window,

No time to say goodbye.

On and on the train does speed

Until the line's end one sees,

Another sunset down

Without any lasting memories.


The whole poem is an analogy which compares a day and a train journey.


Caesura: pausing or stopping within a line of poetry caused by punctuation

Living, breathing apathy

Saps energy, will, interest,

Leaving no desire to win.

All that's left are ashes,

Cinders of what might have been.


The punctuation within the lines (in this case, all commas) are the caesura, not the punctuation at the ends of the lines.


Enjambement: the continuation of thought from one line of poetry to the next without punctuation needed at the end of the previous line(s).

Looking through the eyes

Of wonder, of delight,

Children view their world

With trust, with hope

That only life will change.


Enjambement is found at the end of lines 1, 3, and 4 because there is no punctuation. When reading enjambement, one should not pause between the lines.


Hyperbole: extreme exaggeration for effect

Giants standing tall as mountains

Towering over midgets

Bring eyes above the common ground

To heights no longer small.

Arms of tree trunks wrap

In comfort gentle, softness

Unthought of due to size,

Yet welcomed in their strength.


Giants aren't really tall as mountains, nor are arms as big as tree trunks, but the use of the exaggeration helps create the image wanted.


Metaphor: the comparison of two unlike things by saying one is the other

Sunshine, hope aglow,

Streams from heaven's store

Bringing smiles of warming grace

Which lighten heavy loads.

Clouds are ships in full sail

Racing across the sky-blue sea.

Wind fills the cotton canvas

Pushing them further away from me.


In the first stanza, sunshine is compared to hope while in the second, clouds are compared to ships.This is different to simile because the things being compared are said to actually be one another, not be 'like' one another.


Metonymy: the substitution of a word for one with which it is closely associated

Scandals peep from every window,

Hide behind each hedge,

Waiting to pounce on the unwary,

As the White House cringes in dismay.


The "White House" is used in place of the "President" or the "government", and readers understand what is meant without being told exactly who is being addressed.


Onomatopoeia: the sound a thing makes

Roaring with the pain

Caused by flashing lightning strikes,

Thunders yells, "Booooom! Craaaashhhh! Yeow!"

Then mumbles, rumbling on its way.

Grrrr, the lion's cry echoes

Through the jungle's den

Causing creatures small

To scurry to their holes.


Roaring, rumbling, cry are not examples of onomatopoeia, but are verb forms. Boooom, craaaashhh, yeow, and grrrrr are examples of onomatapoeia.


Oxymoron: the use of contradictory terms (together) for effect

Freezing heat of hate

Surrounds the heart

Stalling, killing kindness,

Bringing destruction to the start.


Freezing and heat are contradictory, opposites, yet the two together create a mental image.


Personification: the giving of human traits to non-human things incapable of having those traits.

Anger frowns and snarls,

Sending bolts of fire from darkest night

That bring no brilliance,

Rather only added blackness of sight.


Frowning and snarling are human traits that anger cannot experience; however using them as traits for anger creates the imagery needed.


Simile: the comparison of two unlike things by saying one is like or as the other

Sunshine, like hope aglow,

Streams from heaven's sky

Bringing smiles of warming grace

On breeze whispers like a sigh.

Clouds are like ships in full sail

Racing across the sky-blue sea.

Wind fills the cotton canvas

Pushing them further away from me.


These two stanzas of poetry and those for metaphor are nearly identical. Both metaphor and simile are comparisons of unlike things, but metaphor states one thing is the other while simile says one is like the other, or as the other.


Symbol: something which represents something else besides itself

The dove, with olive branch in beak,

Glides over all the land

Searching for a place to light.

Storms of war linger on every hand,

Everywhere the hawk does fight.


The dove is a symbol of peace, and the hawk is a symbol of war. Using them in poetry gives an image without having to explain in detail.


Other Terms:

Elegy: a poem of lament (extreme sorrow, such as caused by death)


Free Verse: a poem without either a rhyme or a rhythm scheme, although rhyme may be used, just without a pattern.


Blank Verse: un-rhymed lines of iambic pentameter (ten syllables with all even numbered syllables accented)


Imagery: the use of words to create a mental picture


Mood: the emotional effect of a poem or a story


Understanding and using these devices and terms can help improve and strengthen poetry. Imagery is essential for vivid poetry, and devices help develop imagery.



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