Literary devices are the tools of poetry. They’re how you get your point across. Poets use them to manipulate meaning, create moods, and make their poems stand out from the rest. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most common literary devices and see how they’re used—and misused!
Literary Devices Poem Examples
Alliteration is a literary device that uses repeated consonants in a phrase or sentence.
In the following poem, “Ode to the West Wind,” Percy Bysshe Shelley uses alliteration to create a rhythm that carries the reader through his verse:
“O wild West Wind! Thou breath of Autumn’s being –
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing…”
Apostrophe is a literary device in which the writer addresses an absent person or thing. It’s like talking to yourself! It’s a way to have a conversation with something that is not present, and it can also show how much you care about someone or something.
Here are some examples:
“O western wind, when wilt thou blow? That small rain down can rain,” from William Shakespeare’s “When Will Spring Come?” shows that Shakespeare cared deeply for springtime. He wanted it to come sooner so he could see flowers again!
An example of assonance is the poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost. The poem uses alliteration, repetition, and rhyme to create a smooth flow of sounds that are pleasing to the ear. Another example is Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee,” which uses alliteration and consonance in its first stanza:
“It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know—”
Hyperbole is a figure of speech that uses exaggerated language to create distance from the truth. It’s often used for the purpose of humor or emphasis, but it can also be used to create drama. Hyperboles are usually one of these three things:
- A statement that is clearly untrue, like “I’ve been looking for you everywhere!”
- An exaggeration (example: “My head is killing me!”)
- A comparison that has been overblown (example: “You’re fairer than the moon!”).
Irony is a literary device that can be used to say the opposite of what you mean. Irony is when something happens or someone says something that isn’t what you expect. For example, if a writer writes about how much he loves his grandmother but then tells you that she’s dead, this would be ironic because it was just the opposite of what he said.
Irony is also used in jokes, such as when we ask someone for help and they tell us no (when we actually need help). Or maybe you’re on vacation and you take pictures of everything except the beach because it’s too hot!
We use irony to make points, like in this poem: “I hate cats.”
A metaphor is a comparison between two things that are not alike. It’s a figure of speech, and it can be used in any genre—poetry, prose and nonfiction. Metaphors are often used to describe abstract concepts:
- “Death was the final enemy.” (from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”)
- “She was a million colors and one.” (from Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings)
Metaphors are also frequently employed when describing physical objects or actions:
- “He fell asleep on his sofa like an old man with too many cushions under his head” (from Jack Kerouac’s On The Road)
- “Your heart is like an empty pool where my words fall deep into silence like stones dropped into water that does not touch their surfaces but makes them vibrate deep inside where no one sees them except me” (from Pablo Neruda’s From 6 To 7)
Onomatopoeia is a word that evokes the sound of what it represents. For example, “hissing” or “splashing” are both examples of onomatopoeia.
The word comes from the Greek ὄνομα (onomá) meaning “name” and ποιέω (poiéō) meaning “to make”. In poetry, onomatopoeia is often used to create an effective and striking effect in a poem by directly describing sounds or actions in words that mimic those noises or actions.
Personification is the attribution of human traits to non-human things. It’s a device that can be used to make a point and/or create a mood.
Examples of personification include:
- “The moon was high above the lake, like a watchful eye.”
- “The clouds were lazy across the sky, like sleeping giants.”
You could also write that “the flowers smiled at me,” which would be considered personification.
Rhyme is the repetition of similar sounds in two or more words. It is a key element of poetry, and one that helps to create rhythm and sound. Rhyme can also be used for meaning as well as sound and rhythm. Here are some examples:
- The cat sat on the mat,
The dog put its tail between its legs and ran away,
I can’t find my hat anywhere!
- I am going to jump off this bridge if you don’t let me go outside!
Examples of poems using literary devices
The following poem examples are drawn from a variety of sources and written by different authors. However, they all use literary devices in their writing. These poems do not follow any one pattern; rather, they each demonstrate how many different types of poems can draw on literary devices to convey meaning to the reader.
- “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost tells an anecdote about choosing one path over another and how that choice reflects on the speaker’s character. The poem uses paradox (where two opposites appear true at once) when the speaker claims he made his choice without considering it very much while also admitting that he thought about it a great deal before choosing his path in life. This paradox is further emphasized by the contrast between contentment with his decision versus regret over not taking another path—a contrast that reinforces the idea that every choice has consequences for our lives and those around us who we hold dear.
- “A Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams employs imagery and metaphor as well as personification (the attribution of human qualities or characteristics) to create vivid images for the reader based solely upon an object’s appearance: “so much depends / upon / a red wheel / barrow glazed with rain / water beside / white chickens”
Poetry is an art form that can be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates the written word. It is often viewed as a creative outlet for writers, but you don’t have to write poems to enjoy them. Reading poetry can give you a new outlook on life and inspire you in ways no other type of writing does. You may even try creating your own poem after reading through some examples from this article!