How do you pinpoint the central image of a poem?

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gojsawyer eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Writers create text that is vivid and alive through the use of imagery. Without imagery, readers might have a less interesting, if not altogether boring, experience of reading literature. Imagery can be found in many types of literature including poetry, fiction and nonfiction. A central image in a work is closely tied to other aspects of the work such as plot or theme. It recurs often through the work or is an image around which the work is constructed and, as such, indicates an important aspect of the work relative to its major themes. Fortunately, the central image of a poem can be fairly transparent, as typically the text of poetry is less dense in word-for-word content than prose. As such, pinpointing the central image of a poem is a two-step process that integrates the theme and major emotional impact of the poem with a concrete image that manifests that theme or impact. After those steps, the central image should be able to be described by at least one sentence.

First, analyze the poem to get an idea of the major plot or theme. This analysis should go beyond surface aspects of the text and attempt to encapsulate the deeper meanings and significance of the poem. For example, Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” examines the tenuous relationships and associations between life and death relative to grief. This idea is illustrated in the imagery of the lines “Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,/
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore. . .” The imagery of the “ebony bird” personified as “grave and stern” amid the grief of the narrator over a dead love foreshadows the subsequent  events of the poem. Further, the bird is a prominent figure in the poem, thus indicating the centrality of the bird relative to the meaning of the poem.

Next, identify imagery that is repetitive or very strong and, as such, carries emotional resonance. In “The Raven,” the black bird keeps repeating the word “nevermore.”  For example, the line “Quoth the raven, `Nevermore. . .'”  is repeated several times in the poem, as well as the word “nevermore.”  Once again, the repetitiveness of the imagery of the black bird repeating “nevermore” underscores the value of this action to the meaning of the poem.

Finally, especially for the purposes of composing an essay or research paper around ideas regarding the central image of a poem, write a sentence that merges the major plot or theme with the emotional resonance of that theme relative to the central image that has been identified. If that sentence fits the context of the poem as a reasonable interpretation, it most likely describes and interprets the central image of the poem. For example, a sentence about the central image of “The Raven” might read: “In the poem “The Raven,” Poe utilizes the central image of a black bird repeating the word “nevermore” to convey the tenuous associations between life and death relative to grief.”

It is important to note that not every work utilizes a central image to convey the plot or the theme. Yet, here are a few examples of poems in which a central image can be identified that work effectively with the process described above:

"Tinturn Abbey" (William Wordsworth)
"The Road Not Taken" (Robert Frost)
"I Too Sing America" (Langston Hughes)

Good luck!

emildepadua | Student

As a student, our teachers advised us to read a lot because it really helps not only on gaining the knowledge but on understanding a certain manuscript. When reading a poem you should read it comprehently. Note all the words that you don't know and use dictionary to defined the meaning and lastly, feel every word and stanzas so that you can picture the image of the poem and you will know what it is all about and you will surprised that in every single of the sentences in the poem it has a deeper meaning that or maybe will affect your life