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Elements of Poetry Poetry is a special type of literature in which words are arranged and chosen to create a certain effect. Poets carefully select words for their sounds and meanings and combine them in different and unusual was in order to communicate ideas, feelings, new ways of looking at things, experiences, and sometimes stories. Poets use the elements of poetry to convey the sounds, emotions, pictures, and ideas they want to express. Understanding Poetry Form The way a poem looks and is arranged on a page is its form. The words in a poem are written in lines, which may or may not be sentences. In some poems, such as “Annabel Lee,” lines are grouped into stanzas. Each stanza may have a uniform number of lines, or the number of lines may vary. Sound Since most poems are meant to be read aloud, poets make many decisions about how the poem should sound. In some poems, words are arranged to form patterns of sound. Some of these patterns are described below. Rhyme Rhyme is the repetition of the same sound at the ends of words – peek and creak, for example. Many traditional poems contain rhyme at the ends of lines. The pattern of such rhyme is called the rhyme scheme. Rhythm The rhythm of a poem is the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. Rhythm brings out the musical quality of language; it can also create mood and emphasize ideas. Notice the rhythm in this line from “Annabel Lee.” The stressed syllables are marked by a /. / / / / It was many and many a year ago. Poems in which the rhythm is like everyday conversation, without a definite pattern, are called free verse. “Incident in a Rose Garden” is written in free verse. Alliteration Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginnings of words, as in this line from “Incident in a Rose Garden”: Black gloves, a broad black hat. Assonance The repetition of a vowel sounds within words is called assonance, as in this line from “Annabel Lee”: And so, all the night-tide, I lie Down by the side. Imagery Language that appeals to the readers’ senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste is called imagery. Most imagery creates visual images for the reader, as in these lines from “Incident in a Rose Garden”: Death grinned, and his eyes lit up With the pale glow of those lanterns That workmen carry sometimes… Imagery can appeal to the other senses as well. These lines from “Lost” appeal to the senses of touch and smell: I brushed by people with every step, Covered my nose once in a while, Gasping against the smell of Perspiration on humid days. Figurative Language Language that describes ordinary things in a new way is called figurative language. Poets commonly use figurative language to compare one thing to another. These and other special ways words are combined, called “figures of speech,” are explained below. Simile A comparison of unlike things using the word like or as is called a simile. This example from “The Courage that My Mother Had” compares courage to a rock: That courage like a rock, which she Has no more need of, and I have. Metaphor A metaphor compares two unlike things without the word like or as. In these lines from “Lost,” the speaker’s head is compared to a signal. Lights flashed everywhere Until my head became a signal, Flashing on and off. Personification In personification, an object, animal, or idea exhibits human qualities. In these lines from “Incident in a Rose Garden,” death seems like a person. Sir, I encountered Death Just now among the roses. Thin as a scythe he stood there. Speaker The speaker is the voice that talks to the reader. The speaker may or may not be the voice of the poet, even in a poem that uses the pronouns ‘I’ and ‘me.’ The poet might make the speaker a young child or an old woman, or anyone. The speaker often expresses feelings the poet wants to convey. Theme The theme of a poem is the message about life or human nature that the poet shares with the reader. For example, the theme might be an idea, such as “Death is inevitable.” Strategies for Reading Poetry 1. Read the poem aloud. You hear the sounds of a poem by reading it aloud. As you read, remember that the end of a line is not necessarily the end of a thought. Read to the end punctuation to understand the complete thought. Listen to the rhyme, rhythm, and sounds of the words as you read. 2. Visualize the images. Picture the images that the poem suggests. Think about any comparisons the poet makes. 3. Figure out who the speaker is. Use clues in the poem to decide if the speaker is male or female, young or old, and so on. The speaker’s identity will influence how you feel about his or her message. 4. Look carefully at the individual words and phrases. Poets try to choose words that convey an exact meaning, feeling, and sound. As you read, try to figure out what each word adds to the poem. Think about why the poet chose those words. 5. Think about the poem’s message or theme. Ask yourself what idea all the elements of the poem combine to suggest. Paraphrase, or put into your own words, the idea or feeling or picture the poem gives you. Remember that poetry is very personal. A poem may mean something special to you because you have experienced the feelings it expresses. You may have seen a picture the poem describes, or agree with an idea the poem suggests. Let yourself become involved with poetry and enjoy the new and special way that poetry makes you think and feel.