Poetic Devices

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Poetic Devices
Poetry is the kind of thing poets write. — Robert Frost Man, if you gotta ask, you’ll never know. — Louis Armstrong

A POET IS LIMITED in the materials he can use in creating his works: all he has are words to express his ideas and feelings. These words need to be precisely right on several levels at once: • they must sound right to the listener even as they delight his ear • they must have a meaning which might have been unanticipated, but seems to be the perfectly right one • they must be arranged in a relationship and placed on the page in ways that are at once easy to follow and assist the reader in understanding • they must probe the depths of human thought, emotion, and empathy, while appearing simple, self-contained, and unpretentious Fortunately, the English language contains a wide range of words from which to choose for almost every thought, and there are also numerous plans or methods of arrangement of these words, called poetic devices, which can assist the writer in developing cogent expressions pleasing to his readers. Even though most poetry today is read silently, it must still carry with it the feeling of being spoken aloud, and the reader should practice “hearing” it in order to catch all of the artfulness with which the poet has created his work.

the SOUNDS of words Words or portions of words can be clustered or juxtaposed to achieve specific kinds of effects when we hear them. The sounds that result can strike us as clever and pleasing, even soothing. Others we dislike and strive to avoid. These various deliberate arrangements of words have been identified. Alliteration: Repeated consonant sounds at the beginning of words placed near each other, usually on the same or adjacent lines. A somewhat looser definition is that it is the use of the same consonant in any part of adjacent words. Example: fast and furious Example: Peter and Andrew patted the pony at Ascot In the second definition, both P and T in the example are reckoned as alliteration. It is noted that this is a very obvious device and needs to be handled with great restraint, except in specialty forms such as limerick, cinquain, and humorous verse. Assonance: Repeated vowel sounds in words placed near each other, usually on the same or adjacent lines. These should be in sounds that are accented, or stressed, rather than in vowel sounds that are unaccented. Example: He’s a bruisin’ loser In the second example above, the short A sound in Andrew, patted, and Ascot would be assonant. Consonance: Repeated consonant sounds at the ending of words placed near each other, usually on the same or adjacent lines. These should be in sounds that are accented, or stressed, rather than in vowel –1–

sounds that are unaccented. This produces a pleasing kind of near-rhyme. Example: boats into the past Example: cool soul Cacophony A discordant series of harsh, unpleasant sounds helps to convey disorder. This is often furthered by the combined effect of the meaning and the difficulty of pronunciation. Example: My stick fingers click with a snicker And, chuckling, they knuckle the keys; Light-footed, my steel feelers flicker And pluck from these keys melodies. —“Player Piano,” John Updike Euphony: A series of musically pleasant sounds, conveying a sense of harmony and beauty to the language. Example: Than Oars divide the Ocean, Too silver for a seam— Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon Leap, plashless as they swim. — “A Bird Came Down the Walk,” Emily Dickenson (last stanza) Onomatopoeia: Words that sound like their meanings. In Hear the steady tick of the old hall clock, the word tick sounds like the action of the clock, If assonance or alliteration can be onomatopoeic, as the sound ‘ck’ is repeated in tick and clock, so much the better. At least sounds should suit the tone – heavy sounds for weightiness, light for the delicate. Tick is a light word, but transpose the light T to its heavier counterpart, D; and transpose the light CK to its...
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