Figures of Speech and Figurative Language
When creating images to deepen the reader's understanding of a thought or an idea, poets often use figures of speech and other figurative language. A line in a William Blake poem deepens the reader's understanding by using a simile: “The moon like a flower ….” Another line in the same poem provides additional insight by using personification when discussing the moon “With silent delight / Sits and smiles on the night.”
Similes, metaphors, and personification enable poets to make what author Frances Mayes calls “figurative images,” which surprise, expand the reader's understanding, draw attention to the message, increase reading pleasure, and add dimensions by making associations that wouldn't immediately have come to mind. By creating such images, poets establish a new medium of exchange between the writer and the reader.
When crafting an image, the poet, in the words of poet Florence Trefethen, details “something in the external world that the senses can apprehend that is the equivalent of an intangible mood or feeling.” To do this, there are a variety of image-makers to work with:
Alliteration: The repetition of consonants, particularly at the beginning of words. For example, the letter s is alliterated in the following line: “He summoned the sweetness of silence.”
Allusion: A reference to or the mention of something from history, the arts, nature, current society, and so on that the reader has knowledge of and that will help the reader better understand the poet's meaning. For example, “like Juliet she waited” is an allusion to a character from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
Metaphor: A direct comparison between two things. For example, “my mind is a clock ticking down the day.”
Onomatopoeia: Using words that imitate sounds. For example, arf sounds like a dog barking, and boom sounds like an explosion.
Personification: Giving human qualities to inanimate objects. For example, “the sun sprang orange into the lifting haze.”
Simile: An indirect comparison of one thing to another using the words like or as. For example, “his voice roiled like a storming sea, pulling me beneath it.”
For more on figures of speech and other rhetorical devices, see Chapter 15.