What poetic devices does Johnson Agard use in "The Clown's Wife"?

Poetic devices Johnson Agard uses in "The Clown's Wife" include imagery, punning, dialogue, dialect, and anaphora to convey the irony of a wife having to play the clown at home to cheer up her depressed clown husband.

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Agard uses imagery, double entendre (punning), dialect, dialogue, and anaphora to conjure the world of a clown's wife as she deals with the irony that her husband, so full of good cheer on stage, is so depressed at home.

Imagery, description using any of the five senses of sight, sound, touch, taste, or smell, emerges when the wife, who is the poem's speaker, mentions such detail as her husband's "red nose" or his "moan" as he enters the house, elements we can see and hear. She also uses imagery to describe herself taking on the traditional role of a clown—she juggles eggs and does cartwheels—to try to cheer him.

The poem puns on the word clown at the end, when the husband asks what he would do "without [his] clown of a wife." Here, clown means both someone ridiculous or uncouth and the actual role of a clown, someone who consciously works to make others laugh.

The poem also uses dialogue or direct speech, in recording what the clown says about his wife: this adds immediacy and punch to the words. Dialect emerges, revealing the lower class origins of the wife when she says "them funny clothes" and "I do me latest card trick." Like dialogue, dialect brings us closer to the lived experience of the poem's characters.

Anaphora can be seen in the repetition of the "I" at the beginning of each line in the beginning of the fourth stanza. Anaphora creates a sense of litany—repeated ritual—which suggests that the activities the wife describes doing are a ritual she goes through all the time.

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"The Clown's Wife" is a description of the public and private life of a clown and the contrasts between them. It begins with the public. On stage, the clown is a king on a throne—though it is already implied that this is the reverse of his private persona: "On stage, he's a different person." The last line of the stanza, "But at home you should hear him moan," uses alliteration, assonance, and onomatopoeia to mimic the sound of moaning.

The figurative language ("a king on a throne") continues in the next stanza with "the world on his shoulder." The singular "shoulder" makes him appear hunched and unbalanced. The irony that the clown makes others laugh but is unhappy himself is compounded when his wife has to perform the sort of tricks one would expect from a clown to try to cheer him up. However, the final uneven couplet (providing some closure and resolution through rhyme, though not through scansion) suggests that her efforts are not altogether in vain.

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The clown uses apostrophe—not to be confused with the punctuation mark of the same name—in expressing how much he appreciates his wife:

O life, ah life,
what would I do without this clown of a wife?

As is often the case with apostrophe, the speaker is using it to address a personified abstract figure—in this case: life. He is giving thanks to life for the gift of his "clown of a wife."

There is also the use of anaphora, a rhetorical device in which a word, or sequence of words at the beginning of a clause, is repeated for emphasis. In "The Clown's Wife" the wife of the title uses anaphora in the fourth stanza where she tells us all about the many things she does to cheer up her husband whenever he's feeling down:

I do me best to cheer him up, poor soul.
I juggle with eggs, I turn cartwheels,
I tell jokes, I do me latest card trick,
I even have a borrow of his red nose.

It's just these activities that make the clown so incredibly thankful that he has such a clown for a wife: someone who can pick him up when he's feeling low.

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Besides its imagery, the most obvious poetic devices in this poem are irony and paradox.  While the clown is the "king on the throne" (4) with a silly "red nose" (7) whose job it is to make his audience laugh, the wife assumes that same role when her husband gets home. The poem makes the statement that a person who works so hard at making others happy may have a more difficult time making himself happy. The paradox here is that making the lives of the general population better has a negative effect on the actual life of the individual performer. Perhaps this is true because the performer truly understands that he is only presenting a type of facade rather than reality.

The speaker, the wife, reveals the clown's melancholic personality when she notes that "I do me best to cheer him up, poor soul"(9).  She worries that he buries his emotions inside, the opposite tendencies of a clown.  The poet uses images to reveal the antics of a clown, but humorously uses them to describe not the clown himself, but the wife. In stanza four, she juggles, jokes and performs physical stunts to do, in effect, the same job her husband does during the day. Her understanding of his predicament lends to her characterization as a truly devoted wife.  The husband appreciates his wife's efforts in the last lines, 16 and 17, of the poem:  O life, ah life, what would I do without this clown of a wife?"

The reader understand the images portrayed by a typical street clown, but is more affected by the irony and paradox of the actual life of a clown.  All is not fun and games in real life; even a clown knows that.

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