Imagery in Poetry

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Painting a Mental Picture in Poetry

Imagery functions as a poem’s five senses and is the language that transports the reader to a time, place or experience hand-picked by the author. It is of utmost importance in regards to inspiring feelings and manifesting the author’s ideas into a mental picture. Four poems, “My Papa’s Waltz,” “Bogland,” “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” and “Fire and Ice” explore the power of imagery in a way that allows the reader to mentally visualize the elements of the poem.

“My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke introduces two characters, a father and son, who seemingly have a violent relationship. Although there are many different images within the poem, Roethke focuses on one main image – the waltz. The narrator’s point of view in this poem is intertwined with what he remembers as an adult and with how he felt as a young boy waltzing with his father. His words circle around in a waltzing motion, bringing a dueling, yet combined perspective. The first stanza begins with a description on “the whiskey on Papa’s breath,” and how the stench “could make a small boy dizzy.” Immediately we understand that this is an adult’s memory because a small boy may not even understand the scent of alcohol. However, he circles around and says, “But I hung on like death/such waltzing was not easy.” In these lines, you can see the image of a scared young boy, clinging to his father, who is scared, but thrilled enough to keep on dancing with him. We also can note that the boy is much smaller than the father when he says, “At every step you missed/my right ear scraped a buckle.” The waltz is supposed to be a formal dance, where two people sway back in forth in tune with a song. But Roethke’s use of imagery, allows the reader to understand a deeper image of the young boy’s dance with his father, which may be in tune with the song of his life, but does not sway back and forth the way it’s intended to.

Seamus Heaney’s “Bogland” relies on the use of...
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