What figurative language is used in the poem "Music" by Stephen Vincent Benet?

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liesljohnson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This poem has so much figurative language that I'd bet you can find within it an example of any particular type--simile, metaphor, imagery, alliteration, hyperbole, antithesis, and more. But let's focus our discussion on a few of the poem's most salient figurative language features:

1. Similes. Because the speaker of the poem is attempting to transfer the experience of listening to his friend play the piano into words, he struggles to convey the intensity of the auditory and visual experience and to channel that into mere words. Similes help. They liken the sounds the speaker is hearing and the dynamic scenes he views to more concrete concepts, thereby making them more real for the reader. The piano keys "flash like swords," and the imaginary army raised by the sound of the piano is "swift as storm-clouds." And, the final chord shakes the speaker "as wind shakes a harp."

2. Auditory imagery. Some readers call this "sensory detail," specifically of the auditory type. By describing what things sound like, the speaker helps elevate the poem from text to actual sounds that seem to ring out in our minds as we read. "Helms and cars" make a "clang;" horns are "screaming;" the "valiance" of the wind is "crying." This auditory imagery summons a cacophony in readers' minds, making the experience of the speaker that more realistic.

3. Hyperbole. By exaggerating or overstating ideas and images, the speaker is able to express the full intensity of his experiences. Here, the sounds of the piano being played don't just fill the air in the room but tear apart "the darkness like a leaping knife." The intense music doesn't just make the speaker question the validity of his own perhaps dull life; it fully reveals that his life is merely a "pageant." A final chord from the piano is not just evocative but actually "perilous." All of these hyperbolic descriptions help build the intensity of the poem and compel the reader to accompany the speaker on his extremely dramatic imaginative journey.