What are some examples of literary devices in the poem "Jacklight," by Lousie Erddrich, and how do they help convey the poem's message?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In her poem "Jacklight," Louise Erdrich uses a number of different literary devices to help contribute to the poem's meanings and effectiveness, including the following:

  • an epigraph, as in the opening quotation from R. W. Dunning, which helps explain the poem's title.
  • frequent use of anaphora, or repetition of a word or phrase at the beginnings of successive lines, as in the first four lines of the poem:

We have come to the edge of the woods,

out of the brown grass where we slept, unseen,

out of knotted twigs, out of leaves creaked shut,

out of hiding. (italics added)

Such phrasing helps give the poem a highly rhythmic quality and thus contributes to its memorability.

  • assonance, or similar vowel sounds, as in the repeated "ou" sound in line 2 and the repeated "ee" sound in the same line.
  • alliteration, or repetition of consonant sounds, as in the emphasis on "s" sounds in line 2.  Both assonance and alliteration contribute to the music of the poem and thus to its memorability.
  • repetition, not only in the form of anaphora but even within lines, as in line 3.
  • metrical emphasis on initial words, as in the repeated "out" of lines 2-4. In regular iambic meter, the second syllable would be stressed (as in "rebel"; here the first syllable is stressed (as in "rebel").
  • imagery of nature, as in all the lines quoted above, which implies the speaker's appreciation of beauty and which appeals to same sense in the reader.
  • metaphor, in which a comparison is implied rather than openly stated by use of the words "like" or "as" (as in a simile).  A metaphor appears in line 6 when the speaker mentions "a fist of light" -- a phrase that implies the speaker's own inventiveness and sensitivity to language.
  • lists of emphatic verbs, as in lines 6-7, which describe how light

. . . pointed,

searched out, divided us.

This technique again adds to the emphatic rhythm of the poem and stress key words.

  • similes, in which the speaker makes comparisons by using the words "like" or "as." A simile occurs, for instance, in line 8 when the speaker mentions "beams like direct blows." Here again the comparison implies the speaker's perceptiveness, sensitivity, and inventiveness.
  • alternation of long and short sentences, as in lines 8-9, so that the rhythm of the poem does not become monotonous or predictable.
  • paradoxes or oymorons, in which apparent opposites are combined, as in the reference in line 11 to a "night sun." These devices help sustain interest in the poem by surprising the reader and encouraging the reader to think in unconventional ways.  They also imply that the speaker is capable of such thought.
  • onomatopoeia, in which a word sounds like the thing or action it describes, as in the use of "cracked" in line 20.
  • ambiguity, or phrasing that seems unclear, suggestive, or provocative, as in line 18.  Ambiguity contributes to the mysteriousness of texts and encourages readers to try to decipher the intended meaning, thus making poems more intriguing.
  • irony, or some kind of unepected disparity between two things, as in the shift of tone from peaceful in stanza one to violent and threatening in stanza four.


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