What is the difference between poetic devices and figures of speech?  Is alliteration a poetic device or figure of speech?

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There are many more poetic devices than there are figures of speech because figures of speech are actually poetic devices (which is a much broader category). A poetic device could be something as simple as repetition or rhyme. A figure of speech is a particular kind of device that extends beyond the literal meaning of the words used, creating some figurative meaning. This might be a metaphor, a figure of speech which says that one thing is something else, or a simile, a figure of speech which says that one thing is like or as another. One example of a metaphor would be, "Cambridge ladies live in furnished souls." Souls cannot literally be furnished, and so we are given to understand that Cambridge ladies try to furnish, or artfully arrange, their souls the way they might furnish their homes. Their souls are compared to homes which have been arranged to impress. One example of a simile would be, "Cambridge ladies have souls like furnished homes." Here, the meaning is the same, but the word like reduces the intensity of the comparison. Alliteration is a poetic device but not a figure of speech because it does not create any figurative meaning like a simile or metaphor, for example, does.

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"Poetic device" is a non-precise, almost pejorative, term, referring loosely to all the linguistic variations available to a writer (rhyme, meter, figurative language, etc.). Among them are metaphors, such as similes, litotes, personifications, etc.  Metaphors come from Greek rhetoricians who tried to classify the persuasive "tools" available for argument.

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Alliteration is a poetic device, not a figure of speech.

A poetic device is a way of using words to create meaning.  Poets often use words differently than prose writers do, but these can be found in any writing.

Alliteration is the repetition of initial consonant sounds.  Consider “the sunny sidewalk started sideways from my house” where the s sound is repeated.

A figure of speech is a type of poetic device. For example, a simile or metaphor is figurative language.  We usually use figure of speech to refer to an idiom, or a commonly used figurative phrase.  For example, “the cat’s out of the bag” or “crazy as bedbugs” are idioms.  A simile is a new example of figurative language, such as “her eyes were as blue as sapphires.” If “the sun was laughing” that would be a metaphor.

 

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