It’s all about the layers. The thing about poetry is that it’s not meant to be simple. Straightforward statements and easy explanations are not what a poet has in mind. Poet’s use many literary and poetic devices like word play, rhythm, enjambment, and more to add layer upon layer to their writing. Writers like to play with the double meaning of words with more than one definition to add humor, sarcasm, or dramatic effect to a piece. Poets can also play with their lines breaks to allow the physical placement of the words across the page to reflect what they’re writing in the piece.
1. Juxtaposition: a technique where two or more ideas, places, characters, and actions are set side-by-side to draw comparisons and contrasts. For reference, take a look at Do not Go Gentle into that Good Night by Dylan Thomas
“Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
2. Euphony: the use of words and phrases that have a melody in the sound created. The word has a soothing effect due to repeated vowels, harmonious consonants (L, M, N, R, F, V, etc.), or semi-vowels (W, S, Y, th-, wh-, etc.). Euphonious words have been bolded below in Ode to Autumn by John Keats.
“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that found the thatch -eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees…”
3. Alliteration: this is simple repetition of the first consonant sound in many words. It can be fun, and is often involved in tongue twisters.
“Sally sells sea shells by the seashore,”
“Kindly kittens knitting mittens keep kazooing in the king’s kitchen.”
4. Cacophony: contrary to euphony, cacophony is a mixture of harsh and inharmonious sounds. They are usually combined into phrases for a strong effect. This is primarily achieved through harsh consonants with explosive delivery (P, B, D, G, K, ch-, sh-, etc.). The bolded words below are examples of cacophonous words in The Bridge by Hart Crane.
“The nasal whine of power whips a new universe…
Where spouting pillars spoor the evening sky,
Under the looming stacks of the gigantic power house
Stars prick the eyes with sharp ammoniac proverbs,
New verities, new inklings in the velvet hummed
Of dynamos, where hearing’s leash is strummed…
Power’s script, – wound, bobbin-bound, refined –
Is stopped to the slap of belts on booming spools, spurred
Into the bulging bouillon, harnessed jelly of the stars.”
5. Allegory: a figure of speech where abstract ideas are described in terms of characters, figures, and events. It can be used to teach an idea or principle, or explain an idea. This is usually used to teach some kind of moral lesson. Using allegory adds a whole new dimension to let stories and characters become something larger in meaning – be it moral or political views. The example below is quite long. If you want to read the whole piece, Salveja by Adeyemi Joshua, click here.
But this vow,
That them all will to me bow:
They that regard me not,
But that crack me as a nut.
I’m going out of my land,
To places where I’ll be given a stand.
Let me a hence there to be a Lord,
Enough of my savaging here: I’m bored.”
6. Stanzas: this is group of lines in a poem, also known as the body of the poem. Stanzas are made up of a number of lines – sometimes two, or three, or four, or even one long sentence. It’s a way to organize new ideas, create a pause, and add emphasis to related lines. It can also signal a change in time, place, and perspective. As it does in Emily Dickenson’s “The Daisy Follows Soft the Sun.”
“The daisy follows soft the sun,
And when his golden walk is done,
Sits shyly at his feet.
He, waking, finds the flower near.
“Wherefore, marauder, art thou here?”
“Because, sir, love is sweet!””
7. Metaphors: this may sound like a false statement, but in actuality this is comparing two things with similarities not always thought of. Many metaphors are commonly used. We just don’t always know that they are metaphors.
“Time is money,”
“You are my sunshine,”
“America is a melting pot.”
8. Euphemism: polite, indirect expressions that replace other expressions we might think harsh or impolite. This is an idiomatic expression – the literal meaning is lost and refers to something else to hide unpleasantness. This depends largely on the social context of the poet and their audience.
“He is a little tipsy” (drunk)
“pushing up daisies” (death)
9. Enjambment: the continuation of a sentence or clause over a line-break. It is the running on of a sense from one line to the next without a major pause or break. This is a way of creating audible interest. They often do not have punctuation at the end, have a fast rhythm, and create a natural sense of motion. Take for instance “Harlem” by Langston Hughes.
“What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore –
And then run?…
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load?
Or does it explode?”
10. Synethesia: a blending or mingling of different senses. The symbolist movement of the 19th century popularized it, named in reference to the medical condition where one of the five senses simultaneously stimulates another sense. Effects include textual amplification, complication, and richness. It is used to draw out a response from readers by stimulating multiple senses. A great example is another Emily Dickinson poem entitled “Dying.”
“With blue, uncertain, stumbling buzz,
Between the light and me;
And then the windows failed, and then
could not see to see.”
10. Paradox: a statement that contradicts itself and still somehow seems true. In poetry, it is less about logic and more about illuminating meaning. It is often used to illustrate an opinion or statement contrary to traditional accepted ideas. Writers use this to make readers think in an innovative way.
“I can resist anything but temptation.” – Oscar Wilde.
“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” – Animal Farm by George Orwell
“I must be cruel to be kind.” – Hamlet, Hamlet by William Shakespeare