what are figurative devices?why are they used in poetry?

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Poetry makes maximum use of a sense of language, a feeling for words. The meanings, whether denoted or suggested, all add to the overall import of a poem. So in order to utilize the possibilities of words, poets employ figurative devices. Here are some of these devices:

Imagery - Language that appeals to the various senses. There are various types of sense representations: 

  1. visual
  2. auditory
  3. olfactory
  4. gustatory
  5. tactile
  6. organic
  7. kinesthetic

Simile - a stated comparison between two unlike things or ideas using the words as or like. Sometimes than, similar to, resembles, or seems are used, as well.
Metaphor - an unstated comparison between two unlike things or ideas. Sometimes the two terms are named, but often one of them, the literal or the figurative term, are simply implied.
Apostrophe - the addressing of something non-human or someone absent as though this being or entity is alive and able to respond
Personification - the attribution of human qualities to non-human entities or ideas.
Synecdoche - the use of part for the whole  e.g. "The hand of God"
Metonymy - the use of something closely related for the thing actually meant. e.g. "The pen is mightier than the sword."
Paradox - An apparent contradiction that provokes thought into a deeper meaning
Pun - A play upon the meaning of words. e.g. a dying Mercutio tells Romeo, "Tomorrow you will find me a grave man." grave/serious; grave/place for the dead
Tone - The author's attitude toward his/her subject
Irony - A contrast between what is said or what happens and what is meant or expected.
Symbol - Something that stands for someone/something else


 

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taangerine's profile pic

taangerine | Student, Grade 12 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Figurative language devices are often used to give an effect to the passage or excerpt. They are used in poetry to show us what the speaker is trying to bring to light. The speaker can also refer to these devices to set the mood/tone of the poem. Some examples of these devices are personification and simile. 

PERSONIFICATION: to give human characteristics to an object/animal

  • The pond was so murky that even the fish complained how murky the pond was. 

This could refer to how polluted the pond was. It sets a very light-hearted mood because this pond was so dirty that even the fish filed a complaint.

SIMILE: using "like" or "as" to make a comparison 

  • This vase is as pretty as a monster. 

The speaker comparing the "pretty" vase to a monster. It can be viewed 2 ways. (1) In many cases, monsters are not the prettiest things in the world. It sets a very sarcastic tone to the work. Because of this, we cannot believe everything the speaker is saying. (2) However, if the speaker really does think monsters are pretty, we have an insight into what the speaker views as beautiful. And, in order to understand the work, we have to look at the work in the author's point of view instead of our own. 

Linked below is an identified and labeled explanation of figurative language and poetic devices used in a popular pop artist's song, Katy Perry's "Firework."

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