Poetic devices

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Poetic devices are a form of literary device used in poetry. A poem engages our responsiveness as it is created out of poetic devices composite of: structural, grammatical, rhythmic, metrical, verbal, and visual elements[1]. They are essentially tools that a poet uses to create rhythm, enhance a poem's meaning, or intensify a mood or feeling[2].

Poetic diction[edit]

Poetic Diction is a style of writing in poetry which encompasses vocabulary, phrasing, and grammatical usage. Along with syntax, poetic diction functions in setting the tone, mood, and atmosphere of a poem to convey the poet's intention.

Types of Poetic Diction[edit]


Poetic devices that have a sonic quality achieves specific effects when heard. Words with a sound like quality can strike readers as soothing or dissonant while evoking certain thoughts and feelings associated with it.

  • Alliteration–A string of three or four instances of the same consonant sound with no more than one intervening, non-alliterative onset consonant sound. Alliteration is used as a mnemonic device to evoke feelings such as fear and suspense in poetry.
  • Assonance–Repeated vowel sounds in words placed near each other, usually on the same or adjacent lines.These vowel sounds are usually accented, or stressed to give a musical quality to the poem. By creating an internal rhyme, this also enhances the pleasure of reading the poem.
  • Consonance–Repeated consonant sounds at the ending of words near each other, usually on the same or adjacent lines. These should be in sounds that are accented, or stressed, rather than in a vowel.
  • Cacophony–A discordant series of harsh, unpleasant sounds to convey disorder. This is often enhanced by the combined effect of complex meanings and pronunciation. Example: My stick fingers click with a snicker And, chuckling, they knuckle the keys; Light-footed, my steel feelers flicker And pluck from these keys melodies. —“Player Piano,” John Updike.
  • Euphony–A series of musically pleasant sounds that gives the poem a melodious quality, conveying a sense of harmony to the reader.
  • Onomatopoeia–It is used in poetry to create aural effects that mimics the visual image described. A combinations of words may be used to create an onomatopoetic effect. It is, however, not imperative to use words that are onomatopoetic in and of themselves. For example, in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner', Coleridge uses the phrase “furrow followed free” to mimic the sound of the wake left behind a ship.


Poetic rhythm is the flow of words within each meter and stanza to produce a rhythmic effect while emphasising specific parts of the poem.

  • Repetition–Repetition often uses word associations to express ideas and emotions in an indirect manner, putting emphasis on a point, confirming an idea, or describing a notion.
  • Rhyme–Rhyme utilises repeating patterns to bring out rhythm or musicality in poems. It is a repetition of similar sounds occurring in lines in a poem which gives the poem a symmetric quality.


The use of figurative language as a poetic device functions to convey the poet's intended meaning in various ways.

  • Allusion–A brief reference to a person, character, historical event, work of art, and Biblical or mythological situation.
  • Analogy–Drawing a comparison or inference between two situations to convey the poet's message more effectively. Example: The plumbing took a maze of turns where even water got lost.
  • Metaphor–Metaphors are used in poetry to explain and elucidate emotions, feelings, relationships, and other elements that are better described using evocative language. Poets also use metaphor as a way of explaining or referring to something in a brief but effective way.
  • Symbol–An object, event, animal, or person to which we have attached meaning and significance.
  • Symbolism–Symbolism in poetry is using an object or action that suggests something beyond its literal meaning. Symbolism means to imbue objects with a certain meaning that is different from their original meaning or function. It is a representative of other aspects, concepts or traits than those visible in literal translation. Other literary devices, such as metaphor, allegory, and allusion, aid in the development of symbolism.
  • Hyperbole–An outrageous exaggeration used for effect. Example: He weighs a ton.
  • Irony–A contradictory statement or situation used to expose a reality contrary to what appears to be true.
  • Imagery–Not simply a visual representation, in poetry it sustains or comprises figures of speech such as the following: " My heart opens like a cactus flower ". In this simile from Stevie Smith’s ‘Le Désert de l’Amour’ (1938), the image of a cactus flower imbues the poem with layers of conceptual as well as visual weight.
  • Oxymoron–A combination of two words that appear to contradict each other.
  • Paradox–A statement in which a contradiction may reveal an unexpected truth.
  • Personification–Attributing human characteristics to an inanimate object, animal, or abstract idea. Example: The days crept by slowly, sorrowfully.
  • Pun–A play on word in which words with totally meanings have similar or identical sounds.

Poetic Form[edit]

Poetic Form[3] is the physical structure of the poem: the length of lines, rhythm, as well as system of rhymes and repetition. The poet's ideas and emotions are reinforced through this structural embodiment.

Types of Poetic Form[edit]

Edward Lear

Fixed verse[edit]

A poem which follows a set pattern of meter, rhyme scheme, stanza form, and refrain.

  • Ballad–A narrative poem written as a series of quatrains in which lines of iambic tetrameter alternating with iambic trimeter. It typically adopts a xaxa, xbxb rhyme scheme with frequent use of repetition and refrain. Written in a straight-forward manner with graphic simplicity and force, ballads are lyrical and convey a wide range of subjects frequently associated with folklore or popular legends.
  • Haiku–A Japanese form of poetry deeply influenced by Zen Buddhism. It consists of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables. The elusive nature of its form lies more in its touch and tone rather than in its syllabic structure. A haiku typically adopts a brief description of nature to convey implicit insights or an essence of a moment. It also common for haikus to embody a direct or oblique reference to a season.
  • Limerick– Popularised by Edward Lear in his Book of Nonsense published in 1846, a limerick is considered the only fixed form of English origin. It is a light or humorous form of five chiefly anapestic verses with a rhyme scheme ofaabba. Modern limericks generally use the final line for clever witticisms and word play while its content often tends toward the ribald and off-colour.
  • Lyric–Derived from the Greek word lyre, lyric poetry was originally designed to be sung. It is the most frequently used modern form, including all poems in which the speaker’s ardent expression of emotion predominates. Ranging from complex thoughts to simple wit, lyric poetry often evokes in the readers a recollection of similar emotional experiences.
  • Ode–Several stanzaic forms that are more complex than that of the lyric. It is embedded with intricate rhyme schemes and irregular number of lines of considerable length. Written with a rich and intense expression, an ode is structured to deliver an elevated thought to praise a person or object. “Ode to a Nightingale” is an example.
  • Rondeau–A fixed form used in light or witty verses. It consists of fifteen octo- or decasyllabic lines with three stanzas and two rhymes applied throughout. A word or words from the initial segment of the first line are used as a refrain to end the second and third stanza to create a rhyme scheme aabba aabR aabbaRa.
  • Villanelle–A poem consisting of two rhymes within five 3-line stanzas followed by a quatrain. The villanelle conveys a pleasant impression of simple spontaneity, as in Edwin Arlington Robinson’s 'The House on the Hill'.
    Shakespeare Sonnet 18
  • Sonnet–A fourteen line poem in iambic pentameter with a prescribed rhyme scheme. Traditionally used to convey the idea of love. Shakespeare’s sonnet sequence, for example, seeks to discover new ways of imagining love. In Shakespeare’s sonnet 130, he describes the lady’s beauty skilfully and playfully such that every image of beauty it sets up is immediately refuted to mock conventional Renaissance ideas of female beauty.

Blank verse[edit]

Also known as “un-rhymed iambic pentameter", blank verse is an unrhymed verse written in iambic pentameter. In poetry, it has a consistent meter with 10 syllables per line (pentameter). Unstressed syllables are followed by stressed syllables, five of which are stressed but do not rhyme.

  • Trochee–A trochee is a two-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which a stressed syllable is followed by an unstressed syllable.
  • Iamb–A two-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which one unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable.
  • Anapaest–A three-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which two unstressed syllables are followed by a stressed syllable.
  • Dactyl–A three-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which a stressed syllable is followed by two unstressed syllables.
  • Spondee–A beat in a poetic line that consists of two accented syllables. It is a poetic form that is less common than other metrical feet. It is rare to find poems written in spondee alone as poets use often use it in combination with other metrical feet.

Free verse[edit]

A poetic form free from limitations of regular metric rhythm and fixed rhyme schemes. The lack of regularity and conventional rhyme schemes allows the poet to shape the poem freely. Such irregularity and lack of refrain also evoke a sense of artistic expression.[3]

Examples of free verse include 'A Noiseless Patient Spider' by Walt Whitman.


Punctuations as Poetic Devices

Punctuation is an object of interpretation in poetry; it is semantic.[4] In poetry, they act as non-verbal tools of poetic expression. A form of artistic choice, the poet's choice of punctuation is central to our understanding of poetic meaning because of its ability to influence prosody. The unorthodox use of punctuation increases the expressive complexity of poems, or may be used to align poetic metres. Unconventional use of punctuation is also employed to stress the meaning of words differently, or for dramatic effect. End-stopping is when a punctuation—of any kind—at the end of a line is accompanied by a strong pause. The occasional end-stopped line may evoke a sense of finale or formality while many end-stops in a row may be used to evoke a jerky cadence. On the contrary, a lack of punctuation allows the reader to interpret the sequence of words in various ways. A lack of punctuation may allow the poem to be interpreted as a "stream of consciousness" such as Maya Angelou’s I know why the caged bird sings.

  • Question marks–In poetry, they used to reflect a contemplative pause.
  • Exclamation marks–Indicates surprise, joy, and other strong emotions the poet is trying to emphasise or convey.
  • Ellipses–Leaving out part of a sentence or an event by substituting it with ellipses is a stylistic element. It represents an omission of words which helps in advancing the story.
  • Parentheses–It is technically used to separate and subordinate segments of a prose sentence. In poetry, a parentheses draws attention to what is encased within them. In Cummings’ poem, 'Somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond', parentheses are used to convey a sense of intimacy and contemplativeness: “… your slightest look easily will unclose me though i have closed myself as fingers, you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens (touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose… (i do not know what it is about you that closes and opens; only something in me understands the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses) nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands".
  • Enjambment–A lack of punctuation. It creates run on lines where a thought, phrase, or clause in a line of poetry does not come to an end break, but moves on to the following line. It may be employed to reinforce a central idea by eradicating the use of semi-colons, periods, or commas which may distract the reader. Enjambment is also employed to achieve a fast pace or rhythm.


  1. ^ Dunnigan, S (2014). "Poetic Imagery". The Edinburgh Introduction to Studying English Literature: 67–77. doi:10.3366/j.ctt1g09vqj.10 (inactive 2019-02-11). JSTOR 10.3366/j.ctt1g09vqj.10.
  2. ^ Rustici, C (1997). "Sonnet Writing and Experiential Learning". College Teaching. 45 (1): 16–18. doi:10.1080/87567559709596180. JSTOR 27558810.
  3. ^ a b Johnson, Wendell Stacy (1955). "Some Functions of Poetic Form". The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. 13 (4): 496–506. doi:10.2307/426937. JSTOR 426937.
  4. ^ Tartakovsky, R (2009). "Cumming's Parentheses: Punctuation as Poetic devices". Style. 43 (2): 215–247. doi:10.5325/43.2.215 (inactive 2019-02-11). JSTOR 10.5325/style.43.2.215.


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