What are the literary devices used in "The Slave's Dream?"

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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There are multiple literary devices used in Longfellow's poem "The Slave's Dream."

In the first line, the "i" sound in the words "beside" and "rice" are examples of assonance. Assonance is when a line of poetry contains repetition of a vowel sound.

In the second line, "His sickle in his hand" shows alliteration. Alliteration is the repetition of a consonant sound in a line of poetry. Here, the "h" sound is repeated in the words "his", "his", and "hand".

The following lines example a simile (a comparison between two things using the words "like" or "as").

Before him, like a blood-red flag,
The bright flamingoes flew;

Here, a comparison is made between a group of flying flamingos and a blood-red flag.

"And the hyena scream" examples personification. Personification is where a non-living, non-human thing is given human attributes. A hyena does not actually "scream"- but, people do.

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jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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Longfellow uses some very evocative imagery to convey the slave's dream. As the slave lies, spent, on the sand with a bare chest and matted hair, he dreams of the Niger and palm trees. This imaginary land is described with beautiful imagery, such as "And heard the tinkling caravans/ Descend the mountain-road," that is meant to form a stark contrast with the slave's brutal life. As the slave's dream goes on, he greets his queen and his beautiful children and rides along the river on his stallion. The poet uses words that convey the slave's power and strength, such as "his scabbard of steel/Smiting his stallion's flank," that express the strength that the slave feels in his dream and that he does not have in real life. Word choice is therefore also a device Longfellow uses in this poem.The phrase describing the scabbard is also an example of alliteration, as many of the words begin with the "s" sound. 

Towards the end of the poem, the poet also uses similes, such as the river's passing "like a glorious roll of drums," in which the flow of the river is compared to a drum roll. The poet also uses personification, such as, "The forests, with their myriad tongues/ Shouted of liberty; /And the Blast of the Desert cried aloud,/ With a voice so wild and free." The forests are like people who have tongues and can shout cries of liberty, while the desert can cry aloud like a person. Death is also personified, as "For Death had illumined the Land of Sleep," meaning that death itself had led the slave to this magical land. In a poignant metaphor, the slave's body is compared to "a worn-out fetter," and the soul, personified, is responsible for throwing it away. 


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