Imagery intensifies the impact of the poet’s words as he shows us with his words rather than just telling us what he feels. Song lyrics are full of imagery.
This is an excerpt from Preludes, an imagery poem by T. S. Eliot. You can almost see and hear the horse steaming and stamping and smell the steaks:
The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps.
Eliot also used imagery in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells
Alfred Tennyson was another poet who made use of imagery. See if you can get a clear picture of the summer night he describes in this poem Summer Night:
Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;
Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk;
Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font:
The firefly wakens: waken thou with me.
Now droops the milk-white peacock like a ghost,
And like a ghost she glimmers on to me.
Now lies the Earth all Danaë to the stars,
And all thy heart lies open unto me.
Now slides the silent meteor on, and leaves
A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me.
Now folds the lily all her sweetness up,And slips into the bosom of the lake
So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip
Into my bosom and be lost in me.
The Shark by Edwin John Pratt introduces the reader in detail to a shark, painting a picture so vivid you can practically see it in your mind's eye:
His body was tubular
And as he passed the wharf
And snapped at a flat-fish
That was dead and floating.
And I saw the flash of a white throat,
And a double row of white teeth,
And eyes of metallic grey,
Hard and narrow and slit.
Then out of the harbour,
With that three-cornered fin
Shearing without a bubble the water
He swam—That strange fish,
Tubular, tapered, smoke-blue,
Part vulture, part wolf,
Part neither—for his blood was cold.
Next is an excerpt from I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth. The first and last stanzas that show a progression of the poet’s emotions.
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
The last of the examples of imagery poems is an excerpt is from Ode to the West Wind by Percy Bysshe Shelley.
O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,
Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
O thou,Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed
The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave,until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow
Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill (Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:
Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and Preserver; hear, O hear!
In addition to imagery, there are six other devices that a poet uses to make the language of his poems figurative. The reader’s senses are heightened and he will see things the way the poet does.
The seven figurative language devices are:
A simile is used to compare two things using the words “like” and “as.” Examples include:
A metaphor sounds like a false statement, until you realize the similarities between the two things being compared. These would be phrases like:
In alliteration, the first consonant sound is repeated in several words. A good example is “wide-eyed and wondering while we wait for others to waken”. Alliteration can be fun, as in tongue twisters like: “Kindly kittens knitting mittens keep kazooing in the king's kitchen.”
Personification is giving human characteristics to objects, animals, or ideas. This can really add to a reader’s enjoyment of a poem as it changes the way he looks at things. Examples are:
Onomatopoeia is the use of words that sound mimic sounds, or sound like what they mean.These add a level of reality to a poem. These can be words like: smash, wham, quack, meow, oink, whoosh, swish, zap, zing, ping, munch, gobble, and crunch.
Hyperbole is a ridiculous exaggeration that can by funny and makes a point. Examples are: “I had to walk 15 miles to school in the snow, uphill” and “you could have knocked me over with a feather”.
In summary, imagery poems appeal to the senses as they describes living things or inanimate objects, more so than the other six categories of figurative language.
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