Hyperbole is the use of over-exaggeration to create emphasis or humor. It’s not intended to be taken literally. Rather, it’s supposed to drive a point home and make the reader understand just how much the writer felt in that moment.
Throughout the ages, hyperbole has appeared in poetry time and time again. If you can’t be dramatic in poetry, where can you? Hyperbole helps express ever-lasting love, a broken heart, or feelings of despair in an amplified tone.
So, without further ado, lets’ take a look at 10 effervescent examples of hyperbole in poems and watch these famous masters turn up the heat on any given emotion.
From the Grecian master, Homer, to the modern day Shel Silverstein, here’s how some of the greats expressed their hyperbolic imagination:
Homer loved using hyperbole in his epics. In The Iliad, he said the god Mars cried out "as loudly as nine or ten thousand men." Surely, one man could never generate that much noise, but it must’ve been a cry that Mars felt from the very depths of his heart.
Andrew Marvell was a 17th century metaphysical English poet that often used hyperbole in his writing. One famous example comes from To His Coy Mistress: A hundred years should go to praise / Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze; / Two hundred to adore each breast; / But thirty thousand to the rest."
Surely, he loved this woman and could look at her for ages. Thirty thousand years might be pushing it, but we can certainly feel how much he treasured her.
Have you ever heard the expression, “The shot heard ‘round the world?" It’s a hyperbole that refers to the beginning of the American Revolution. It comes from a poem written by Ralph Waldo Emerson called The Concord Hymn.
"Here once the embattled farmers stood / And fired the shot heard round the world."
Although the shot wasn’t heard on the other side of the globe, those who were in its near presence understood its gravity.
In A Red, Red, Rose by Robert Burns, the narrator says he’ll love his bonnie lass until “the seas go dry, the sun melts rocks, and the sands of life come to an end.”
It seems like Burns felt a love similar to our friend Marvell. Just like Marvell won’t quite be able to love for 30,000 years, Burns was unlikely to see the seas go dry in his lifetime. But, he sure did love his woman.
W.H. Auden was an American poet who often used hyperbole. In his poem, As I Walked Out One Evening, he wrote, "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."
These men knew how to love. Here, Auden’s expressing his everlasting love for a woman and, although China and Africa are as likely to touch borders as America and Australia, the exaggeration says it all. At no point will he stop loving her.
William Wordsworth wrote in I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud, “Continuous as the stars that shine and twinkle on the milky way, they stretched in a never-ending line along the margin of a bay. Ten thousand I saw at a glance, tossing their heads in sprightly dance.”
Wordsworth is reflecting upon a long row of daffodils he saw. Although they were plentiful and beautiful, it’s unlikely they were quite as expansive as the milky way.
Shel Silverstein is adored by readers around the globe because of the manner in which he could draw people into the pages. In Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out, the main character was said to have allowed the garbage to pile up to the ceiling, and after that, “The garbage rolled on down the halls, It raised the roof, it broke the walls.” And, eventually, “The garbage reached across the state, From New York to the Golden Gate.” Unlikely, right? But she sure was delinquent in her chores!
James Tate was another man madly in love. In Poem to Some of My Recent Poems, he claimed his beloved could “scorch you with her radiance.” Have you ever met a woman so beautiful, she left little burn marks on your skin?
In The Portrait by Stanley Kunitz, the narrator recalls a time his mother hit him as a child. It reads, “In the sixty-fourth year, I can feel my cheek still burning.” Thankfully, no slap, no matter how hard or how unwarranted, would carry a sting, decades later.
In Billy Collins’ Forgetfulness, whatever the narrator is trying to recall had “floated away down a dark mythological river.” Have you ever seen a river carrying thoughts and ideas? What an interesting notion. Indeed, Collins was feeling some frustration over not being able to recall something.
In life, we’re probably not supposed to be overly dramatic. At least, not too often. But therein lies the beauty of the written word. We can paint scenes on the scale of epic poems and be as dramatic as we want about that thing we can’t pull down from our memories.
As you continue to put pen to paper and create entire universes with your words, we hope you’ll have some more fun with these Examples of Hyperbole in Literature.