Below are some of the popular poetic devices often used by not only poets but also by prose writers and play writers. Although any literary author could use them and some do, they are of the poetic origin.
METAPHOR A metaphor is an indirect comparison between two different things with a common attribute. It is sometimes described as a compressed simile because of the writer’s desire to save words. The comparative words- ‘as’ and ‘like’-are sacrificed while the quality is transferred straight to the object.
E.g. (i) The sunshine of her smile kept me thinking.
(ii) The man is a lion in the field of play.
A simile is an expression that describes something by comparing it with something else using the words: as, like, as if, as though, as…as, as…so. This is a direct comparison between two objects that share at least one quality.
E.g. (i) He turned and stared at me like a ghost.
(ii) The girl was as lifeless as a stone.
It is a figurative device which gives the attribute of life and understanding to inanimate objects.
In other words, this is the representation of a thing or a quality as a person life.
E.g. (i) The trees jubilated in the winds.
(ii) Death lays his cold hands on kings.
A hyperbole consists of an exaggerated statement which cannot be taken literally. Its purpose is to emphasize and achieve a humorous effect.
E.g. (i) The chair weighs a know ton.
(ii) She prepared a mountain of akpu.
This is the expression of the exact opposite of what one means though the words are not meant to be taken at face value.
E.g. (i) ‘Oh! What a beautiful voice you have’ (when actually the person has a croaky voice).
(ii) Michael won’t be late: you know how punctual he always is (when actually Michael is a notorious late comer who has been late for school many times.)
A statement which appears to be contradictory at the surface level but which on closer scrutiny bears some truth. In paradox, the ideas are self-contradictory, while in oxymoron, the words placed side by side are self-contradictory.
E.g. (i) The child is the father of the man.
(ii) If you want peace prepare for war.
This is an irony that is used with contempt. It is usually without disguise, it is a direct ridicule to show annoyance or unkind joke. Sarcasm aims to hurt its victim or listener.
E.g. (i) A flight is delayed for two hours. Somebody then remarks: ‘Good and efficient service’.
This is a figure of speech which states an unpleasant fact in a pleasant way in order to conceal or hide its real nature.
E.g. (i) He passed away quietly in the night (died)
(ii) The dump is a sight to behold (repulsive)
This is a device which put two contradictory words side by side for effect.
E.g. (i) It is an open secret that the lovers have separated.
(ii) Parting can be such a sweet sorrow.
It is a figurative device in which the name or attribute of a thing is given for the name of the thing itself.
E.g. (i) Enugu is such a bustling city.
(ii) How many Shakespeare’s have you read?
(iii) The pen is mightier than the sword.
It is a figurative device in which the part of an object or idea is taken to stand for the name of the thing made from the material.
E.g. (i) Gray hair (old age) should be respected.
(ii) Nigeria won the cup.
(iii) She was dressed in silk.
This is the repetition of similar vowel sounds in the same line or nearby line of a poem or poetic prose passage.
E.g. (i) With thoughts of the path back, how, rough it was (/oo/ sound and /aa/ sound)
It is a systematic repetition of certain consonant sounds in a poetic line or nearby line in order to produce a special sound effect.
E.g. (i) I bring fresh showers for the flowers, from the seas and the streams. (repetition of ‘f’’ and ‘s’ sounds)
(ii) While wars waste wealth and human resources, peace makes for progress (repetition of ‘w’ and ‘p’ sounds).
It is a figure of speech in which a word, phrase or idea is expressed more than once in a piece of poem or in a dramatic or fictive passage for emphasis.
E.g. (i) Rain, rain go away.
Talk, talk! Who wanted it?
(ii) And she forgot the stars, the moon and the sun
And she forgot the blue above the tree
And she forgot the dells where waters run
And she forgot the chilly autumn breeze
(John Keats: ‘Isabella’).
It is a device in which two unlike ideas are put against each other for effect and obvious contrast.
E.g. (i) United we stand; divided we fall.
(ii) God made the country, man made the town.
This is a figurative device which places ideas in an ascending order of importance. Hence, events develop from a lower level to a higher level.
E.g. (i) The queen’s mother was mourned by her family, countless admirers, and her town’s people the entire world.
(ii) The warrior came, he saw and he conquered.
It is the direct opposite of climax. Events or ideas are arranged in descending order of importance in such a way that the ideas lose their importance.
E.g. (i) The captain lost his two children, household goods and his pet dog in January 27 bomb blast
(ii) The professor lost his head, his job and his books after the nation-wide strike.
This is the use of words whose sounds suggest their meaning or sense
E.g. (i) Croak, squeak, hiss, boom, bang.
It is an amusing use of words or phrases with similar sound but different meanings.
E.g. (i) Seven days without water make one weak (one week)
(ii) ‘Come, I’m a mender of soles, let me mend your souls’, the man preached.
RHETORICAL QUESTION (Apparent interrogation)
A rhetorical question is a question asked as a way of making a statement, not really because one is expecting a definite answer from the reader or audience
E.g (i) Who knows what might happen? Who knows whose turn is by the corner?
(ii) What if I am my father’s son? What if I came here through his influence? Haven’t I done enough to prove that I am equal to the demands of the position?
This is a deliberate understatement by one who uses the negative in order to express the opposite. It also involves the use of double negativity
E.g. (i) Let the past go; we shall not be sorry to miss it (in other words, we shall be glad).
(ii) The girl, though petite is not lacking intelligence.
(iii) I am not ungrateful for your assistance.
In spite of apostrophe being a certain type of punctuation mark, in literature or rhetoric, it is a figure of speech in which the speaker turns away from the audience to address or appeal to someone or an object which is not present at the scene of reference.
E.g. (i) Death, how unkind you are!
(ii) O wild west wind, thou breathe of autumn’s being / Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead/ Are driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing, …
(Shelley: ‘Ode to the West Wind’).
An explicit or indirect reference in a piece of literature (a poem, play or fiction) to a person, place or historical event. In literature many allusions are made to the Bible, to the gods, to a people’s myths and legends, etc, for purposes of association or comparison.
E.g (i) When I refused, he gave me some money; perhaps he thought I was a Judas.
(ii) I came, I saw but I could not conquer.
(This is Napoleon Bonaparte of France’s statement).
This is the description of one kind of sensation in terms of another, say colour being attributed to sound; odour to colour; sound to odours etc.
E.g. (i) I am never merry when I hear sweet music.
(ii) The morning light creaks down again
(iii) I dreamt that my hands were covered with the yellow blood of a stranger.
1 With your own example, define any ten poetic devices of your choice.
2 Identify and define other poetic devices not mentioned here.
- Identify the odd literary device from the list. (a) enjambment (b) plot (c) rhyme (d) alliteration.
- We study literature in school because it (a) provides a means to kill time (b) expose students to life realities (c) provides readers with entertainment (d) teaches readers the use of words
- Dramatic irony entails (a) the praise of the audience (b) a statement with a deeper significance (c) a statement hilarious and sarcastic (d) the praise tag of a great person
- The echoing of the meaning of a word by its sound is called (a) phonetics (b) oxymoron (c) pun (d) onomatopoeia
- A comedy is a play in which (a) nobody dies (b) there is a happy ending (c) there is real laughter (d) the hero is a clown.
- List the various types of poems under the kinds of poetry mentioned here.
- Poetry is a spontaneous overflow of excess emotions and feelings. Discuss.
1 Exam Focus: Lit-in-Eng by J.O.J. NwachukwuAgbada et al., pgs 5-9.