Which poem most effectively uses poetic literary devices and conventions? "Harlem," "The Starry Night," or "Ozymandias"?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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These are three of my favorite poems.  Each one uses poetic devices well.

"Harlem" by Langston Hughes speaks of the plight of the black man prior to the Civil Rights movements. His entire poem is used to show the dreams of the black man  that have been  squashed by white society. If these dreams are not allowed to flourish,  they will soon become explosive. Hughes uses five similes to express the overall metaphor of the dream.  He uses an uneven rhyme scheme,  symbolic of the problems of poverty, lack of education, inequality, poor housing---all dreams deferred.

"The Starry Night" by Anne Sexton blends two voices: the poet and the artist.  Sexton details the famous painting of the same name by Vincent van Gogh.  Her introduction gives voice to van Gogh when he reads a message written to his brother.  Using free verse, she has two verses of six lines and one of five. Both Sexton and van Gogh had failed suicides, but eventually both succeed: Sexton with carbon monoxide poisoning and van Gogh with a bullet in the stomach.  Sexton using van Gogh's voice,  details how she wants to die.  Repetition, colorful words, metaphor, similes--all tools employed by Sexton. Her primary poetic device is her irony of situation through blending of these two voices  describing and pleading for her  "coup de grace": her vision of her death.

into the rushing beast of night

sucked up by the great dragon...

"Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley is a sonnet. Its rhyme scheme does not follow the Petrarchan nor Shakespearean form. His poem is in first person narration and describes the scene of a traveler who has seen this colossal statue broken with its face in the sand. The pedestal which once held the mighty statue states that everyone who looks at the statue will marvel at the things this great leader accomplished: obviously ironic in that the only things left are the fragments and dust of his deeds.

Shelley's poems are often hopeful, yet this one leaves on a note of despair. His primary poetic device besides the form of the poem was the irony left by the ruined statue and the message on the pedestal. Of course, Shelley's unusual rhyme scheme probably followed the sadness of the picture painted by the traveler. The wind and time have destroyed a man so arrogant that he needed to display his accomplishments, yet nature had the final words: "Nothing beside remains."

My choice would be "The Starry Night." I love the other two poems. Why would I choose it? The combination of her word choices, her blending of the voices, her use of comparisons; and of course, the uniqueness of the entire poetic experience.

P.S. If you have not listened to "Vincent," a song written and performed by Don MacLean in the 1970's, please do.  It will make your experience with Vincent van Gogh complete.


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