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The effectiveness of literary devices in poetry and their impact on readers


Literary devices in poetry, such as metaphors, similes, and alliteration, enhance the text's emotional and aesthetic appeal, making it more engaging for readers. These devices help convey deeper meanings, evoke emotions, and create vivid imagery, which can lead to a more profound connection with the poem and a better understanding of its themes.

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How do literary devices in a poem affect readers?

Poets often hope to have an emotional impact on readers and to write using language that will be remembered. In other words, they want readers to feel or respond in certain ways after they read a poem and to remember that response. To do this, they use literary devices, such as imagery, irony, and rhyme scheme.  For instance, in the poem "Dulce et Decorum est," the poet Wilfred Owens tries to convey to the reader a feeling of horror at the violence suffered by soldiers in World War I, and he does this, in part, through imagery. Owen doesn't pull back but instead describes the effect of a mustard gas attack: 

if you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs ...

These images, along with descriptions of weary soldiers who suffer fates that are anything but glorious, are meant to turn people away from glorifying war.

The title of the poem, which means "it is right and sweet  (to die for your country)" uses the literary device of irony, or saying the opposite of what you mean, to highlight, that in reality, it is anything but "sweet" to die in the battlefield and probably not "right" either in a war that grew ever more pointless as time went on.

In a happier poem, "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," William Wordsworth uses the image of thousands of daffodils dancing in a spring breeze to convey that the best things in life are those that money can't buy. He also uses rhyme to help us remember these happy daffodils in his poem:

"Ten thousand saw I at a glance/ Tossing their heads in a sprightly dance."

The rhyme (glance/dance) helps us recall these lines, in which the poet uses the literary technique of personification, or treating an animal or thing as a person, to help us see the many daffodils as if they were people dancing by the lake. At their best, these literary techniques get under our skins and into our souls, and these poems stick with us, altering our thoughts and moods. 

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What makes the literary devices in poetry effective?

In poetry more than any other form of literature, sound and sense (meaning) work together to create a lasting impression (effect) on readers. Poets use literary devices and conventions to create both sound and sense in their work.

The sense of a poem is its meaning; meaning is created by words and images the poet uses as well as the syntax (word order) he uses. Unlike prose writers, poets must condense their thoughts to suit the generally shorter lines of poetry. Literary devices such as metaphor, simile, hyperbole, personification, allusion, and symbolism are useful in creating word pictures for the readers. This short line by Seamus Heaney is a perfect example:

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.

In these few lines (few words, in fact), Heaney paints a picture of a literal pen poised in the hand of a writer as well as the power of that pen to kill, destroy, and protect. The compactness of the lines, the simile comparing a pen to a gun, and the implied symbolism all contribute to the sense (meaning) of the poem.

The element of sound in poetry is perhaps more obvious, but it cannot be overlooked as a reason why poetry is effective. The rhyme and meter, as well as such elements as alliteration and consonance, of a poem add to its effectiveness. 

A poem achieves its greatest effect when it is read aloud. That is when a line that does not look particularly alliterative comes alive (as in Poe's "the silken, sad, uncertain rustling") or a particular rhythm naturally flows from a particular word (try saying "monotonous" without sounding at least a little boring) adds to the meaning of the work.

Alexander Pope, in "An Essay on Criticism" demonstrates this merging of sound and sense with lines like these:

When Ajax strives, some Rocks' vast Weight to throw,
The Line too labours, and the Words move slow....

Pope says that when the subject of the poem (Ajax) has to move heavy rocks, the words of the poem should move slowly and rather laboriously, as well. Read the lines aloud to see what he means--the second line just cannot be read quickly because the words Pope chose match the meaning he intended.

In this line, the movements of a snake are emulated by the words and sounds Pope chose: 

like a wounded Snake, drags its slow length along.

This melding of sound and sense in poetry is done through the effective use of literary devices and conventions. 

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