A Full Course on the Basics of English Poetry
- What is poetry?
(Ancient Greek: ποιεω (poieo) = I create)
Poetry is a literary work in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by the use of distinctive style and rhythm in the form of a ‘poem’.
- Poetry and rhetoric
Rhetorical devices such as simile and metaphor are frequently used in poetry. Indeed, Aristotle wrote in his Poetics that "the greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor".
(1)Figures of Speech
- A. What is Simile?
Simile is an expression comparing one thing with another; always including the words ‘as’ or ‘like’.
Examples on Simile:
- Elizabeth smiles like a moon.
- She is pleasant and bright as the star.
- Adam walks like a lion.
- “I wandered lonely as a cloud,
that floats on high o’er vales and hills.” From the Daffodils.
(Here, the poet compares or likens himself while wandering lonely to a free lone cloud that floats in a blue sky above valleys and the mountains. By choosing this simile, Wordsworth describes his loneliness.)
- B. What is Metaphor?
Metaphor is an expression that describes a person or an object by referring to something that has similar characteristic to that person or object.
- What is the major difference between Simile & Metaphor?
The difference between Simile and Metaphor is that in metaphor we don’t use words ‘like’ or ‘as’. In Metaphor we compare the two things directly without needing to use any words.
Examples on Metaphors:
- The mind is an ocean.
- Greed is a disease.
- Modesty is a treasure.
- “Shall I Compare Thee to a summer’s Day?” From Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18.
(Here, Shakespeare compares/likens the beauty of his beloved to the beauty and fairness of a summer’s day.)
An extended metaphor, also known as a conceit or sustained metaphor, is a metaphor that an author develops over the course of many lines or even an entire work of literature. An extended metaphor may act as a theme in the work of literature because it is repeated and changes forms as it reappears over and over again.
Example on Extended Metaphor:
- Check Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 online.
- JAQUES: All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
(As You Like It by William Shakespeare)
In this example of extended metaphor, Shakespeare compares the world to a stage and people to actors. He goes on to develop this metaphor by exploring the seven different stages of life.
Purpose of Metaphors & Similes Why do we use them?
We use it to paint the picture more clearly. The benefit of metaphors is that we can express ideas for which there are no words and to make the poem more interesting. Using similes and metaphors attract the attention and appeals directly to the senses of listeners or readers encouraging their imagination to comprehend what is being communicated.
Simile vs. Metaphor
The mind is like an ocean.
The mind is an ocean.
He is as smart as a computer.
He is smart. He is a computer.
Honesty is like a treasure.
Honesty is a treasure.
- Now that you know the difference between simile and metaphor, start creating your own similes and metaphor! It’ll be fun!
- C. What is Personification?
To treat something as if it were in the form of a human being; to give a human quality to an animal.
Examples on Personification:
- The wind stood up and gave a shout.
- The moon smiled at me.
- D. What is Metonymy?
Metonymy is the act of referring to something using a word that describes one of its qualities or features.
Examples on Metonymy:
- The White House will be announcing the decision around noon today.
(‘The White House’ - in place of the President or others who work there.)
- The pen is mightier than the sword.
(‘Pen’ refers to written words & knowledge ; ‘sword’ refers to military force.)
- This land belongs to the crown.
(You mean that it belongs to the King or Queen of the country. The crown is closely related to the monarch, so the word is used to represent the monarch.
- “By a sleep to say we end the heart-ache.”; from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
(The Metonymy in “a sleep” connects sleep to death; sleep in this context means death.)
- “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.” from Shakespeare’s Julies Caesar.
(It is a metonymy because the word “ears” replaces the concept of attention.)
Purpose of a Metonymy:
As with other literary devices, one of the main purposes of using a metonymy is to add flavor to the writing. Using a metonymy serves a double purpose - it breaks up any awkwardness of repeating the same phrase over and over and it changes the wording to make the sentence more interesting.
E. What is Irony?
Dramatic or situational irony involves a contrast between reality and a character’s intention or ideals. Irony is the use of words to convey the opposite of their literal meaning. It is a situation where the meaning is contradicted by the appearance or presentation of the idea.
Dramatic irony is when the audience knows something that the characters do not.
Examples on Irony:
- The Titanic was said to be unsinkable. (Yet it did sink!)
- In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo thinks Juliet is dead and the audience knows she is not.
- Two people are engaged to be married but the audience knows that the man is planning to run away with another woman.
F. What is Paradox?
It is a statement that appears to contradict itself.
Examples on Paradox:
- “Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all.”
- “War is peace.”, “Freedom is slavery.”, “Ignorance is strength.” (George Orwell, 1984)
- “I must be cruel to be kind.” from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Purpose of Paradox:
The chief purpose of a paradox is to give pleasure and to strengthen meaning.
G. What is Pun?
A play on words; Puns rely on words that have more than one meaning or that sound like other words.
Examples on Pun:
- A horse is a very stable animal. (Stable has 2 meanings: mentally healthy, the other one is the place where horse are kept.)
- ‘‘Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York.”
(Here, the poet is praising and celebrating the coming of the king; the king’s arrival brought happiness (summer) after it was gloomy (winter). In this sense, the sun has double meaning, the first being “the sun” itself and the other one which is intended is the king who is the sun (son) of York.
- “You were right, so I left.” (Right has 2 meanings here; the first being ‘correct’ and the other one is ‘right as a direction’.
- "Tomorrow, you shall find me a grave man." (‘Grave’ has two meanings: being serious and being dead.)
Function of Pun:
Apart from being witty and humorous, by playing with the words, the writers reveal their cleverness and the cleverness of their characters. Besides, puns in a literary works act as a source of comic relief or an intentional effort on the part of the writer to show his/her creative ability in using language.
- (H) What is Hyperbole?
It is a figure of speech, which involves an exaggeration of ideas for the sake of emphasis.
Examples on Hyperbole:
- He is dying of Shame.
- Your suitcase weighs a ton!
- My grandmother is as old as the hills.
- “Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No. This my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.” From Shakespeare’s Macbeth
(Macbeth, the tragic hero, feels the unbearable prick of his conscience after killing the king. He regrets his sin and believes that even the oceans of the greatest magnitude cannot wash the blood of the king off his hands. We can notice the effective use of hyperboles in the given lines.)
- I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,
I’ll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry.
- You snore louder than a freight train! --------------------------------------------
(2) Rhyme & Sound in Poetry
A rhyme is a repetition of similar sounding words occurring at the end of lines in poems.
Purpose of Rhyme: A rhyme is a tool using repeating patterns that brings rhythm or musicality in poems which differentiate them from prose which is plain. A rhyme is employed for the specific purpose of rendering (giving) a pleasing effect to a poem which makes its recital an enjoyable experience.
Examples on Rhyme
BY WILLIAM BLAKE
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice!
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee?
BY WILLIAM BLAKE
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!
When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
SOUND DEVICES USED IN POETRY:
It is the repetition of the same sounds at the beginning of closely connected words.
Examples on Alliteration:
“The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.”
It is the repetition of the same vowel sounds within (inside) words.
Examples on Assonance:
- The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain.
- Go and mow the lawn.
- We light fire on the mountain.
- I feel depressed and restless.
- “Poetry is old, ancient, goes back far. It is among the oldest of living things. So old it is that no man knows how and why the first poems came.”
- “If I bleat when I speak it’s because I just got . . . fleeced.”
It is the repetition of the same consonant sounds at the end of words, within or at the end of a line.
Examples on Consonance:
- A dove moved silently above the waves.
- "Great, or good, or kind, or fair,
I will ne'er the more despair;
If she love me, this believe,
I will die ere she shall grieve..”
(3) Poetry and Imagery: Images of Poetry
Images of Poetry:
This is the most frequent type of imagery used to recreate a certain image. In the line of verse you can see a visual image of something like the color of red wine.
Auditory imagery is the mental representation of any sound and it is vital in imagining and feeling a situation. In the line of verse you can hear the sound of something like the wind.
Kinesthetic Imagery is a term used to describe the sense of movement or tension. You can notice and sense movement in the line of verse.
D. Olfactory Imagery
Olfactory imagery is related to smell and this imagery helps summon and deliver the smells to the reader.
Gustatory imagery illustrates and recreates the tastes, of food or many other things.
F. Tactile Imagery
Tactile imagery appeals to the sense of touch by presenting attributes like hardness, softness or hot and cold sensations.
(4) Poetry and Form
Metre & Feet:
- One of the most popular and frequent metres in Classical English Poetry is Iambic Pentameter.
- The feet are the metrical units of a line of verse; it is also the combination of stressed and unstressed syllables or the succession of long and short syllables:
Foot = Stressed + Unstressed or Unstressed + Stressed
a. A line of verse with one foot is called a ‘monometer’.
b. A line of verse with two feet is called a ‘dimeter’.
c. A line of verse with three feet is called a ‘trimeter’.
d. A line of verse with four feet is called a ‘tetrameter’.
e. A line of verse with five feet is called a ‘pentameter’.
f. A line of verse with six feet is called a ‘hexameter’.
It is the most common of English feet. Iambic Rhythms dominate the drama, the epic, satire, social verse and lyrical poetry.
Iambic = Unstressed syllable + Stressed syllable
Iambic foot: -- X
Examples: Rebuke - delight
-- X -- X
What does Iambic Pentameter mean?
- Iambic means that the line of verse has a succession of unstressed followed by stressed syllable(s).
- Pentameter (penta = five) means that we have five feet.
Since all of the five feet fall within Iambic foot,
Conclusion: The line of verse is written in Iambic Pentameter.
Iambic (U.S. + S.) Pentameter (5 feet)
‘Stressed’ means that a certain word or syllable is pronounced with greater force than others.
· Examples from poetry on Iambic Pentameter:
‘But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
-- X -- X -- X -- X -- X --
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. ‘
-- X -- X -- X -- X -- X
(William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet)
-- X -- X -- X -- X -- X --
‘To be or not to be, | that is the question.’
‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’
-- X -- X -- X -- X -- X
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
-- X -- X -- X -- X -- X
Exercise: Identify Iambic Pentameter in the following lines:
And I do love thee: therefore, go with me; (a)
I'll give thee fairies to attend on thee, (a)
And they shall fetch thee jewels from the deep, (b)
And sing while thou on pressed flowers dost sleep; (b)
(Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
- The Rhyme Scheme of A Poem:
A rhyme scheme is the pattern of rhymes at the end of each line of a poem or song. It is usually referred to by using letters to indicate which lines rhyme; lines marked with the same letter all rhyme with each other.
For Example: (Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
The Rhyme Scheme of the above lines is (aabb);
Since the first and second lines end with the same rhyme, they take the same letter.
Hence, it is (aabb)
Literary Terms (Glossary)
Stanza: a group of lines forming the basic recurring metrical unit in a poem; a verse.
Example: take a look at the above poem (page 13 The Lamb; it consists of 4 stanzas ; the last one of them is a closing heroic couplet.
Couplet: a pair of successive lines of verse (2 lines), typically rhyming and of the same length.
Heroic Couplet: It is a type of couplets used in poetry; for example:
My brother Bob can really bake
I love the way he makes a cake.
“A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fired at first sight with what the Muse imparts,
In fearless youth we tempt the heights of arts,”
Triplets: The triplet is a rare stanza form in poetry and is basically three lines that rhyme together. It is a type of tercet; three-lined stanza or poem.
Let's go to the mall
But first let us call
And ask Mrs. Hall
Quatrain: A quatrain is a type of stanza consisting of four lines.
He hit the ball so very high
It came back down out of the sky
The runner ran around the base
He ran so fast he fell on his face.
A perfect rhyme is a case in which two words rhyme in such a way that their final stressed vowel and all following sounds are identical e.g. sight and light, right and might, rose and dose etc.
Examples are cat and hat, egg and beg, ink and pink, boo and true, soap and dope.
Sonnet: the sonnet is a fourteen-line poem written in iambic pentameter. Two sonnet forms provide the models from which all other sonnets are formed: the Petrachan and the Shakespearean.
Ballad: The ballad is a poem that is typically arranged in quatrains with the rhyme scheme ABAB. Ballads are usually narrative, which means they tell a story.
Blank Verse: A blank verse is a poem with no rhyme but does have iambic pentameter.
Elegy: A lyric poem that laments the dead.
Epic: A long narrative poem that records the adventures of a hero.
Satire: A literary work that criticizes human misconduct (bad behavior) and ridicules vices, stupidities, and follies.
Lyric poem: A type of poem characterized by brevity, compression, and the expression of feeling.
Finally, How to analyze a poem?
You should provide the following:
- Title of the poem + Name of the writer of the poem + Main Idea of the poem + Explanation of each Stanza
- The Poem’s Form & Structure (Metre + Rhyme Scheme + what kind of poem is it (Ballad or Sonnet...Etc.)
- The Poem’s Imagery & Figures of Speech & Sound Devices
- Final Judgment: Did the poet succeed in conveying his ideas and his feelings through the employment of different images and figures of speech.
"Genuine thanks to my professor, Dr Adel Afifi, the man who taught me what it means to taste and feel a poem."