The fourth element: Expression – Poetic devices (exercise 2)

Key concepts and definitions

(Creative Arts handbook, p. 88-91)

Expression or diction is Aristotle’s fourth element.

Poetic devices (modes of expression) are tools used by writers to create art from language, not only in poetry but also in prose.


Find examples of poetic devices in poems

Rhyme : words that sound alike, usually at line endings

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

(William Shakespeare, Sonnet XVIII)


Rhythm :  a metered structure of syllables, consonants, breathing, or pauses

I grant I never saw a goddess go,

– My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, I think my love as rare

As any she belied in false compare.

(William Shakespeare, Sonnet CXXX)


Repetition : intentional repetition for reinforcement and effect

To the swinging and the ringing of the bells, bells, bells-
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells
Bells, bells, bells-

To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells!

(Edgar Allan Poe, ‘The Bells’)


Alliteration : two or more words in a line of poetry that begin with the same initial sound

When I see birches bend from left and right… / I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.

(Robert Frost, ‘Birches’)


Assonance : repeating vowel sounds without repeating consonants. In poetry, often used as an alternative to rhyme

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o‘er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze…

(William Wordsworth, ‘Daffodils’)


Consonance: repeating consonants without repeating vowels. Consonance gives melody to verse

As in guys she gently sways at ease.

(Robert Frost, ‘The Silken Tent’)


Onomatopoeia : a word that imitates the sound made by the thing being described

It’s a jazz affair, drum crashes and cornet razzes. / The trombone pony neighs and the tuba jackass snorts. / The banjo tickles and titters too awful.

(Carl Sandburg, ‘Honky Tonk in Cleveland, Ohio’)


Personification : ascribing human qualities to an object
But tree, I have seen you taken and tossed,
And if you have seen me when I slept,
You have seen me when I was taken and swept
And all but lost.
That day she put our heads together,
Fate had her imagination about her,
Your head so much concerned with outer,
Mine with inner, weather.

(Robert Frost, ‘Tree at my Window’)


Simile : a figure of speech in which an image is evoked by likening one thing to another
I think my love as rare / As any she belied with false compare.

(William Shakespeare, Sonnet CXXX)


Metaphor : to describe something by giving it the identity of something else

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all

(Emily Dickinson, ‘Hope’)


Imagery : use of devices such as simile and metaphor to create images in the reader’s mind

…Not a God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

(Sylvia Plath, ‘Daddy’)


Look for some of the devices above in a novel

Alice Munro, ‘To Rich Japan’ short story in Dear Life (2012)

Once Peter had brought her suitcase on board the train he seemed eager to get himself out of the way. But not to leave. (rhythm)

Out on the platform looking up at their window, he stood waving. Smiling, waving. (consonance)

The smile for Katy was wide open, sunny, without a doubt in the world (assonance)

She carried not noticing to an extreme. Not noticing, not intruding, not suggesting (repetition, alliteration)

His opinions were something like his complexion. (simile)

That was where the word poetess came in handy, like a web of spun sugar. (simile)

And here she had been desperate for anybody to throw her any old bone of conversation at all. (metaphor)

The dream was in fact a lot like the Vancouver weather – a dismal sort of longing, a rainy dreamy sadness, a weight that shifted round the heart. (metaphor)

But when the woman answered her mouth went dry and felt as big as a tundra and she had to hang up. (simile)

I have read only about 10 pages into the short story, but it was not difficult to find many examples of modes of expression. I think all of them contribute to create a subtle mood of detached intimacy around the main character, Greta, which seems to reflect her attitude toward other people and life: she looks at everybody, to what happens around her and also to herself from a certain affectionate distance.


Come up with examples for each device

As I walked down the street, I looked for a place to eat.
I was a little tense, since that idea made no sense. (rhyme)

You said what are you doing here, you were supposed to be out of town, alas I said, I could not find a plane today. (rhythm)

Yes how true, yes, yes how true (repetition)

Women wishing whisky (alliteration)

I’m dying to ride a bike  (assonance)

The black cat is behind my back (consonance)

Twit twit people do twit all the time (onomatopoeia)

The wind howled all night long (personification)

Mary is stupid as a dumb bell (simile)

That girl is a deer in a forest (metaphor)

Sarah is a deer in a forest, she flees at the light, hides in the dark, and the leaves whisper at her passage (imagery)






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