Key Poetic Devices


  • Assonance – The repetition of similar vowel sounds in a sentence or a line of poetry or prose, as in “I rose and told him of my woe.” Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” contains assonantal “I’s” in the following lines: “How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick, / Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself.”
  • Blank verse – A line of poetry or prose in unrhymed iambic pentameter. Shakespeare’s sonnets, Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, and Robert Frost’s meditative poems such as “Birches” include many lines of blank verse. Here are the opening blank verse lines of “Birches”: When I see birches bend to left and right / Across the lines of straighter darker trees, / I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
  • Enjambment – A run-on line of poetry in which logical and grammatical sense carries over from one line into the next. An enjambed line differs from an end-stopped line in which the grammatical and logical sense is completed within the line. In the opening lines of Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess,” for example, the first line is end-stopped and the second enjambed:

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now….

  • Metaphor – A comparison between essentially unlike things without an explicitly comparative word such as like or as. An example is “My love is a red, red rose,”
  • Narrative poem A poem that tells a story
  • Personification – The endowment of inanimate objects or abstract concepts with animate or living qualities. An example: “The yellow leaves flaunted their colour gaily in the breeze.” Wordsworth’s “I wandered lonely as a cloud” includes personification.
  • Theme – The idea of a literary work abstracted from its details of language, character, and action, and cast in the form of a generalization.
  • Tone – The implied attitude of a writer toward the subject and characters of a work
  • Alliteration – repetition of the first consonant of successive words for emphasis.
  • Form – The essential structure of a work of literature e.g. sonnet.
  • Hyperbole – Deliberate exaggeration or emphasis on an idea or a point.
  • Allusion – An indirect reference to an event, person, place or artistic work that the writer assumes the reader knows about, usually something historical, theological, mythological, or political.
  • Analogy– Linking an abstract or difficult concept to a more familiar idea.

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