Poetic devices are literary techniques that deal with the sounds of language. Poetic devices are NOT just used by poets (although we ALL are poets). They are used by good writers everywhere. They are used by novelists, journalists, and advertisers as well as poets. Poetic devices are pleasing to hear. The best writers and speakers pay attention to the sounds of our language. They think about the impact of these sounds and use them meaningfully.
Poetic devices are often lumped together with figurative language techniques (simile, metaphor, personification, understatement). I draw a distinction between these. On this page I will define poetic devices and provide an example or two of each. I cover the following techniques:
Alliteration is the repetition of the initial consonant sound in words. An easier (though less exact) way to say this is that alliteration is when the first sounds in words repeat. Alliteration often works with assonance and consonance to make phonetically pleasing arrangements.
Despite their mother’s warnings, the children chose to chew with their mouths open.
The grass grew green in the graveyard.
Notice the repetition of the “j” sound in the first example? Alliteration is not always so jarringly obvious. Sometimes it is subtle, such as in the following example:
This example shows that even when one word starts with a “k” and another word starts with a “c,” it is still considered an instance of alliteration. When we study alliteration, we are concerned with the sounds of the words, not just the letters.
Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds. It is often used in combination with consonance and alliteration to create sound patterns that are near rhymes.
Will she read these cheap leaflets.
The snow in the grove froze.
Notice the repetition of the “awe” sounds in the first example, the “e” sounds in the second example, or the “o” sounds in the third example? Assonance can be subtle and may go unnoticed if you’re not scanning for it.
Consonance creates cool sound patterns. When used with assonance, it can create off rhymes or slant rhymes. Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the middle or at the end of series of words. Using consonance is a sophisticated poetic technique that can create subtle yet beautiful lyrics or lines of poetry. Here is an example of consonance:
The satin mittens were ancient.
You could paddle through the spittle in the bottle.
The first of the above is also an example of personification, but we are more interested in the sounds here. Consonance is something that we hear with our ears. In that example we hear the repetition of the “nger” and “ng” sounds. If nobody is around you right now, say out loud, “hungry and angry.” Notice how similar the words sound? What you are hearing is consonance, or the repetition of the “ngry” consonant sounds.
Enjambment is when the writer uses line breaks meaningfully and abruptly to either emphasize a point or to create dual meanings. When reading a poem, speakers should make a slight pause (shorter than a comma) when transitioning from line to line. When a writer uses enjambment, he or she uses this space to spread an idea over more than one line. This may create an alternate interpretation of the lines. Or it may draw attention to the enjambed words. Here is an example:
When the word dead is placed on a line in isolation, it invites the reader to focus on that idea. Surrounded by empty space, the idea may resonate powerfully. Many poets use the space on the page in meaningful ways. Enjambment is a cool technique to practice doing this. Try using it in the next poem that you write.
Imagery is writing or speech that accesses the senses of the audience. By senses, I mean the five senses that we use to experience the physical world: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. This is also called using sensory details. Here are some examples of imagery:
The chirping crickets filled the empty night air.
I was awoken by the pleasing scent of the bacon as it wafted down the hallway.
As you read the first example, you might be visualize snow melting. This description accesses your sense of sight. When you read the second example, you may imagine the noises that crickets make. The imagery in the text references this sound. And as you encounter the third example, you may recall the aroma of bacon. These examples all access different senses. Imagery helps writers and speakers SHOW readers things. Good writers don’t just tell readers things, they show the reader by using imagery.
Repetition is when the writer or speaker knowingly repeats a word or group of words. This is a strong rhetorical technique that can also be used to build a theme in a speech or poem. It is not considered repetition when a writer or speaker repeats little words like a or the. Repetition is used intentionally.
Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
Love is a red, red rose.
In the first example, only one word in the sentence is repeating: nobody. In the second example a whole group of words repeats: Free at last. A poet may repeat a single word, a group of words, or entire lines and stanzas. Repetition may give a word or phrase greater impact. Or it may highlight the importance of an idea. Repetition can embolden a message.
Rhyme is when the end or final sound of two or more words are identical and the words are used together. If the end sounds are not identical, then the speaker or writer may be using consonance or assonance instead.
We often think rhyme is something used at the end of lines. This is true. But rhymes can also be used internally, on the inside of words or lines of poetry.
Rhymes may be monosyllabic (a one syllable) or polysyllabic (two or more syllables). such as in the following examples:
I drove a race car to the space bar.
We saw a butter fly flutter by.
This is the technique that students most often associate with poetry. Many students think poems NEED to rhyme. But I encourage my students to try writing free or blank verse. Poetry is about expression and the beauty of language. Rhyming is fun but poems don’t need to rhyme.
Rhythm is when words are arranged to create an audible pattern or beat when read out loud. A good way to check if a text has rhythm is to hum the sounds that the words make rather than clearly pronouncing them. If you can hear a song or identify a form in the sounds, then the text has rhythm.
I know it is wet and the sun is not sunny / but we can have lots of good fun that is funny.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Instead of just reading these examples, trying humming them. Do you hear how they sort of bounce? This is a rhythm.
Poetic Devices Lesson – Teach students about the sounds of poetry with this PowerPoint slide show. Covers onomatopoeia, rhythm, rhyme, repetition, alliteration, and consonance.
Poetic Devices Lesson PowerPoint
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Poetic Devices Illustration Project – Students will define poetic devices and create an example showing understanding. They will then illustrate their examples. Great artifacts for displaying on a bulletin board.
Poetic Devices Illustration Project RTF
Poetic Devices Illustration Project PDF
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Common Core State Standards Related to Poetic Devices
View All CCSS Standards Related to Poetic Devices
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.4 – Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.5 – Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
ELA Standards: Literature
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including those that allude to significant characters found in mythology (e.g., Herculean).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.5.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative language such as metaphors and similes.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.7.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of rhymes and other repetitions of sounds (e.g., alliteration) on a specific verse or stanza of a poem or section of a story or drama.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.8.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)
ELA Standards: Language
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.3.5 – Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships and nuances in word meanings.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.4.5a – Explain the meaning of simple similes and metaphors (e.g., as pretty as a picture) in context.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.4.5b – Recognize and explain the meaning of common idioms, adages, and proverbs.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.5.5a – Interpret figurative language, including similes and metaphors, in context.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.5.5b – Recognize and explain the meaning of common idioms, adages, and proverbs.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.6.5a – Interpret figures of speech (e.g., personification) in context.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.7.5a – Interpret figures of speech (e.g., literary, biblical, and mythological allusions) in context.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.8.5a – Interpret figures of speech (e.g. verbal irony, puns) in context.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.5a – Interpret figures of speech (e.g., euphemism, oxymoron) in context and analyze their role in the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.5a – Interpret figures of speech (e.g., hyperbole, paradox) in context and analyze their role in the text.