Left to Your Own Devices: How to Enhance your Poetry with Literary Devices

As you may have guessed, there is more to writing a good poem than the use of rhyme scheme and meter.

There are other little tricks, patterns, and references that you can use to grow from being a good poet to a great one.

In the industry, we call these nuances poetic devices.

What is a poetic device?

Poetic devices are different writing techniques.

They are tools that poets can use to stylize, amplify, and strengthen their writing.

So, how can a poetic device enhance your writing?

In there most simplistic form, poetic devices can help a poet develop rhythm through variances in pacing and rhyme.

However, literary devices can also be used to highlight important themes (central ideas) or motifs (reoccurring images, symbols, and ideas).

And in many cases, poetic devices can help a poet better connect with their audience.

A universal example can be seen in nursery rhymes.

These poems are geared toward children, and therefore, poets make use of end rhyme and alliteration to make the stories more digestible and compelling.

Here are 5 Poetic Devices to Try

1.) Alliteration

Alliteration is the repetition of a sound or letter at the beginning of multiple words in a series.

This device is a close cousin to sibilance (the repetition of the “s” sound in a word series).

Ex:

“He was four times a father, this fighter prince”

Excerpt from Beowulf (as translated by Seamus Heany)

This a wonderful poetic device to develop rhythm because alliteration is naturally musical.

Read the example above out-loud. You can hear the up and down of the line’s rhythm.

2.) Allusion

An allusion is an indirect reference to something.

This is a more subtle way to ensure that you audience understands what you are trying to express.

Ex:

“So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.”

Excerpt from Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost

In the example above, Frost highlights how happiness never lasts by alluding to Eden (the biblical garden paradise from which Adam and Eve were expelled after eating the forbidden fruit).

3.) Pun

A pun is a joke which exploits the different meanings of a word or the fact that there are words which sound alike but have different meanings.

Ex:

“Mine is a long and a sad tale!” said the Mouse, turning to Alice, and sighing. 

“It is a long tail, certainly,” said Alice, looking down with wonder at the Mouse’s tail; “but why do you call it sad?” And she kept on puzzling about it while the Mouse was speaking….”

Excerpt from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll makes use of puns to showcase the abnormalities of Wonderland.

4.) Personification

Personification is when animals, plants, or inanimate objects are given human-like qualities.

Ex:

“She sweeps with many-colored brooms,
And leaves the shreds behind;
Oh, housewife in the evening west,
Come back, and dust the pond!”

Excerpt from She Sweeps with Many-Colored Brooms by Emily Dickinson

In this example, Dickinson personifies the setting sun as “a housewife.” This knowledge can elevate one’s understanding and enjoyment of the poem.

As you can see from the short example above, personification can be a great way to create engaging images in the minds of your audience.

5.) Kenning

Kennings are compound metaphorical expressions that were heavily used in Old English and Norse poetry.

Ex:

“Battle-sweat” meaning blood

“Raven-harvest” meaning corpse

“Sky-candle” meaning sun

Examples of kennings from Beowulf

Kennings can add a creative flare to your poetry or can help you make clever and memorable descriptions.

Remember:

1.) Don’t clutter your writing with poetic devices

There are a plethora of literary and poetic devices at your disposal. The key, is to keep it simple. These devices should be used to elevate your story and should not be used to show off your poetic know-how to your audience.

2.) Experiment

Grab a side notebook and try a few of these bad boys out.

(You don’t have to add any of these devices into your next project!)

3.) Have fun!

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