Phoebe Cary

Start Free Trial

What are the poetic devices in the ballad "A Legend of the Northland" by Phoebe Cary?

Quick answer:

Poetic devices in Phoebe Cary's ballad "A Legend of the Northland" include simile, alliteration, apostrophe, dialogue, repetition, punning, polysyndeton, and imagery.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One poetic device used in Phoebe Cary's ballad is simile, a comparison that uses the words "like" or "as." Cary uses a simile with the word "like" when she compares the children to young animals:

And the children look like bear's cubs

She uses "as" to create a simile when she says of the selfish woman's bread that it was

baked ... thin as a wafer

Cary employs alliteration, the repetition of the same consonant at the beginning of words placed close together, when she refers to the children's

funny, furry clothes

In the poetic device of apostrophe, the poem's speaker directly addresses a person absent from the poem. In this poem, the speaker does this when saying,

And yet you may learn a lesson
If I tell the tale to you.

The poem also employs dialogue, which provides the immediacy of direct speech. For example, rather than the poem's speaker reporting the woman's words, we overhear the selfish woman say,

My cakes that seem too small
When I eat of them myself,
Are yet too large to give away.

Peter emphasizes the tedium of the woman's future role before he changes her into a woodpecker by using three poetic devices. The first is the repetition of the word "boring," which creates a sense of tedium. This word is also a pun, which is when a word or words have a double meaning: in this case, "boring" refers to boring into the wood for food and to the fact that such an endless job will be boring or uninteresting. The line also uses polysyndeton, which is the use of a string of conjunctions. Here, Cary uses "and" twice, when in normal prose the line would omit the first "and." This slows the line down, also reinforcing the boredom of the woodpecker's toil:

By boring, and boring, and boring

Cary uses both visual imagery and a simile when she writes of the selfish woman:

all the rest of her clothes were burned
Black as a coal in the flame.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are a number of poetic devices throughout "A Legend of the Northland" by Phoebe Carey. One that stands out the most is a simile, which is a comparison between two things (that are not usually compared to each other) using the words "like" or "as."

In this poem there is a simile on lines 7-8: "the children look like bear's cubs / In their funny, furry clothes." This is not only comparing children to bear cubs but it is also giving the reader a better understanding of just how cold it is. The children must have many heavy layers on to stay warm. Similarly, the simile "thin as a wafer" on line 35 helps to understand the way in which a cake looks, and "black as a coal in the flame" on line 60 helps the reader to understand the darkness of the woman's new form when she is changed into a woodpecker.

The poem also contains a number of sound devices. For example, the lines "And being faint with fasting, / For the day was almost done" contain alliteration, which is the repetition of consonant sounds (in "faint/fasting/for" and "day/done"). Another sound device at work in the poem are end rhymes on lines 2 and 4, 6 and 8, 10 and 12, and so on. This gives a sing-songy rhythm to the poem which helps not only in reading but also in developing the tone and mood of the work.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Other poetic devices used in the poem include the following:

  • assonance (repetition of vowel sounds)--line 1: "Away, away..."
  • consonance (repetition of consonant sounds)--stanza 2: swift, sledge, snow
  • allusion (reference to a historical or literary person or event)--Saint Peter
  • simile (a comparison using like or as)--stanza 1: the children look like bears' cubs
  • repetition--stanza 12: boring, and boring, and boring
  • personification (giving human characteristics to inanimate things)--stanza 17: listen to pity's call

I hope this helps you.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The major literary devices, also called poetic devices, in "A Legend of the Northland" by Phoebe Cary are in the literary element category, with a striking absence of any in the literary technique category. The most striking literary elements pertain to the structure of the quatrain stanzas (four lines per stanza) that have no end punctuation. Each line rolls to the other through enjambment. It works very well in most spots, although there are one or two places where the enjambment is clumsy, such as "Where a little woman was making cakes / And baking them on the hearth / And being faint from fasting... ." There is both an explicit speaker ("tell me a curious story") and an explicit addressee ("yet you might learn"). The poem is a dramatic narrative told from inside a frame in which the speaker introduces the story to the addressee. The rhyme scheme is alternates unrhymed lines with rhymed ones in an abcb defe etc. pattern. The major literary technique is sensory imagery that includes vision, taste, and sound as Saint Peter (the technique of Biblical allusion) approaches the cottage and witnesses the baking of the cakes then turns the woman into a woodpecker that can be heard tapping tapping on a tree. The absence of symbolism, metaphor, and simile are striking.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What poetic devices are used in the poem "A Legend of the Northland" by Phoebe Cary?

“A Legend of the Northland” by Phoebe Cary uses numerous poetic devices, which include rhyme, simile, alliteration, consonance, and assonance.

Rhyme is the repetition of the last stressed syllable at the end of the line. This poem is organized into quatrains, or stanzas of four lines. The second and fourth lines of each quatrain rhyme, for an abcb rhyme scheme.

A simile is a comparison of unlike things for effect using like or as. The poem has several similes. One is “the children look like bear's cubs,” which appears in the second stanza. In the penultimate stanza, the woman’s clothes are compared to coal:

Her clothes were burned

Black as a coal in the flame.

The poet makes extensive use of alliteration, which is the repetition of initial consonant sounds. This is often combined with consonance, the repetition of consonant sounds anywhere else in the word, and assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds anywhere in the word.

The first two lines of stanza 2 combine alliteration and consonance in the s sounds:

Where they harness the swift reindeer

To the sledges, when it snows.

Also in stanza 2, alliteration and assonance are combined in “funny, furry.”

Among the other instances of alliteration are the use of the initial l and t sounds in stanza 3:

You may learn a lesson

If I tell the tale to you.

The poet often uses repetition, such as “rolled and rolled” in stanza 9. She occasionally uses one type of repetition, anaphora, which means repeating a phrase at the beginning of a line. In this stanza, and a few other places, “and” plus a past-tense verb begins the lines:

And rolled and rolled it flat;

And baked it thin.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on