Visual imagery appeals to the...
Imagery is a literary device where the writer creates a picture and evokes feelings through vivid description. Types of imagery include visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and gustatory imagery; they strongly appeal to the five senses. The following twelve quotes illustrate these different types of imagery.
Visual imagery appeals to the sense of sight. In Book 12 of The Odyssey, Homer uses a graphic epic simile to show how Odysseus's men are captured by Scylla.
A man surfcasting on a point of rock
for bass or mackerel, whipping his long rod
to drop the sinker and the bait far out,
will hook a fish and rip it from the surface
to dangle wriggling through the air:
were borne aloft in spasms toward the cliff.
She ate them as they shrieked there, in her den,
in the dire grapple, reaching still for me—
Homer compares Scylla to a fisherman powerfully and aggressively “whipping” out a weapon (e.g., the “long rod”) that “hooks” the hapless men and “rips” them from their ship. The monster effortlessly plucks the powerless mortals like a fisherman reeling in an flapping fish. Actually, the six men become one single fish that writhes, wriggles, and helplessly dangles on Scylla’s line. She tosses them “aloft in spasms” as high as a cliff before devouring them alive. This passage’s final image of the men “reaching” or grasping for Odysseus in vain evokes readers’ horror and pity for the victims.
Auditory imagery appeals to the sense of hearing, simulating a stereo effect that thrusts the reader into the scene. In “Dulce et Decorum Est,” Wilfred Owen documents the grisly death of a gassed soldier during World War I:
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs.
This gruesome description graphically emphasizes the victim’s death throes and their effects on the narrator. Owen cannot help but hear and see “gargling” blood erupt from the victim’s mouth during transportation over a bumpy road. The soldier gasps for breath but can only regurgitate blood and froth.
Robert Frost combines visual and auditory imagery in his poem “The Egg and the Machine.” A man imagines and braces himself for a passing train that overwhelms both his eyes and ears:
All there was was size
Confusion and a roar that drowned the cries.
The train barrels by like a giant, vociferous beast. It is crushing in sight (“size”) and sound (a noisy “roar” that overpowers “cries”) to the lone speaker.
Tactile imagery appeals to the sense of touch. In his poem “Autumn,” John Clare celebrates the arrival of the fall season. As summer turns into autumn,
the spring from the fountain now boils like a pot;
Through stones past the counting it bubbles red-hot.
Spring water “boils” or erupts intensely; it may not be literally boiling, but it looks like boiling liquid. In either case, Clare suggests heat with this image. In the next line, the flowing and bubbling liquid is “red-hot.” Readers can feel the residual heat of summer.
Early in “The Veldt,” Ray Bradbury uses tactile, visual, and auditory imagery to create a safe and comforting home environment. Protagonists George and Lydia walk through their futuristic house that
clothed and fed and rocked them to sleep and played and sang and was good to them. Their approach sensitized a switch somewhere and the nursery light flicked on when they came within ten feet of it. Similarly, behind them, in the halls, lights went on and off as they left them behind, with a soft automaticity.
Bradbury’s word choice conveys a gentle touch (e.g., “clothed,” “rocked them to sleep,” “sensitized”) as well as placidity in sound (“sang,” “flicked,” “soft automaticity”). Lights eerily and automatically flick on and off as they pass by. The creepily maternal house meets their needs as if they were helpless infants that need to be rocked, sung to, and pampered.
A passage from Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” includes auditory, visual, and tactile imagery to recreate the experience of resurrection. After being hanged and dumped into a river, the doomed protagonist, Peyton, imagines resurfacing, feeling and hearing rippling waves. Noises coalesce to create a sense of immediacy (as if the reader were in the water with Peyton):
The humming of the gnats that danced above the eddies of the stream, the beating of the dragon flies' wings, the strokes of the water-spiders' legs, like oars which had lifted their boat—all these made audible music. A fish slid along beneath his eyes and he heard the rush of its body parting the water.
The sounds of natural life in the water are heightened to seem both beautiful and overwhelming. Peyton sees a fish—or does he imagine it? In either case, his ears are sharp enough to hear the fish’s body cutting through the water. Strangely, he can feel the fish “slide” with his eyes and divide the water with his ears. The cacophony and bizarre appearance of the fish create a surreal scene that Bierce later shows the reader is not reality.
Federico García Lorca uses visual, audio, and tactile imagery in “The Guitar” to describe the instrument’s melancholy music:
as water weeps
as the wind weeps
Readers can see, hear, and feel wet and cold dripping water. A frigid wind blows against the skin and whistles through the ears. This wind whips over hard, frozen snowfields that extend as far as the eye can see. This complex imagery conveys the mournful discomfort of a gloomy winter day, quite like the guitar’s woeful music.
Olfactory imagery appeals to smell, the sense most closely linked with memory. A whiff of an odor can transport a person in time and space. George and Lydia may not remember being on an African veldt, but olfactory imagery certainly transports them to one. After they step into their children’s playroom,
hidden odorophonics were beginning to blow a wind of odor at the two people in the middle of the baked veldtland. The hot straw smell of lion grass, the cool green smell of the hidden water hole, the great rusty smell of animals, the smell of dust like a red paprika in the hot air. And now the sounds: the thump of distant antelope feet on grassy sod, the papery rustling of vultures. A shadow passed through the sky. The shadow flickered on George Hadley’s upturned, sweating face.
This passage combines olfactory imagery with auditory, visual, and tactile imagery. Olfactory imagery immerses the characters (and the reader) into the wilderness, with smells of grass, standing water, sod, and dust. Auditory imagery of animal footsteps and rustling wings accentuate the experience. Visual imagery of a vulture’s shadow cast onto George’s face creates suspense. Finally, his sweating face and the earlier “hot air” stress the scene’s intense heat. All of these different types of imagery work together to alert the reader to impending danger.
Gustatory imagery appeals to the sense of taste—appetizing as well as revolting. In his essay “A Modest Proposal,” Jonathan Swift satirically argues that poor children be used for food in order to alleviate poverty and food shortages. He bolsters his thesis presenting a well-nursed, healthy one-year-old toddler as tasty foodstuff:
A most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.
Swift transforms a human child into a juicy, nutritious culinary dish. A toddler is a conveniently versatile ingredient that can be cooked in different ways. In reality, though, this cannibalistic idea as conveyed through gustatory imagery seems a bit disgusting to the reader.
The opening of Mark Strand’s “Eating Poetry” contains visual and gustatory imagery:
Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.
The first line conjures up an image of a mouth stuffed with dripping fruit. The fruit is so succulent that “ink runs” out of the speaker’s mouth like overflowing juice. Yet the taste of ink is not appetizing. Nonetheless, the narrator is happy. Completing this surreal scene is the bizarre image of a grown man gorging himself on printed words of poetry. Strand’s figurative consumption of poetry—reading and experiencing words and images—becomes literal and joyous ingestion.
A passage that combines visual, tactile, gustatory, and auditory imagery is this description in Leopold Senghor’s poem “Black Woman.” Senghor compares Africa to a
Naked woman, dark woman
Ripe fruit with firm flesh, dark raptures of black wine,
Mouth that gives music to my mouth.
The reader sees a naked, dark-skinned female and feels her “firm flesh” that resembles “ripe fruit.” Gustatory delights (“raptures of dark wine”) emphasize the exquisite taste of fine liquor. The woman’s mouth creates lovely, melodic music for Senghor to hear and be inspired to write.
Finally, kinesthetic imagery uses these other types of imagery to convey the presence and/or absence of motion. Kinesthetic imagery (aka kinesthesia) is the vivid description of action to help the reader visualize and feel motion. In Robert Frost's “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening,” kinesthetic imagery is used to emphasize the speaker’s pause in the middle of a quiet forest. The owner of the woods
will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
In contrast to the man who stands still, snow falls and accumulates in the deserted forest. This example of kinesthetic imagery conveys the motion of falling snow; it also creates the visual image of snow piling up as well as auditory images of muted falling flakes forming an ever-thickening blanket of silence. Man is static while nature moves.