Poets are charged with creating works that are highly evocative. They use images that demonstrate emotions and ideas, either literally or metaphorically. Creative language is one of the tools that the best poets employ to get a point across.
Among the most evocative choices is the use of onomatopoeia. This includes words that mimic the actual sounds we hear. For example, bark came about because it mimics the actual sound a dog makes. Also, a bell clangs in the night, also mimicking the actual sound. Let's enjoy some examples of onomatopoeia poems.
Onomatopoeia is often used by poets because it allows the reader to visualize the scene by creating a multi-sensory experience, all with words. Readers don't just picture the scene, they "hear" the sounds in the distance or "feel" the chill in the air - as these examples, from the classics to modern verse, demonstrate.
Alfred Lord Tennyson was one of the most famous poets of the Victorian Era, succeeding the Romantic poet William Wordsworth as England's poet laureate. Lord Tennyson was widely known for his particularly effective use of language, which conjured up whimsy, mystery, and even sadness.
His medievalist poem, "Morte D'Arthur," chronicles the death of the legendary King Arthur. See his use of onomatopoeia in this line:
And answer made the bold Sir Bedivere:
"I heard the ripple washing in the reeds,
And the wild water lapping on the crag."
Around the same time Tennyson wrote poetry in England, Edgar Allan Poe was doing the same in America. Poe's poetry is always filled with sensory detail, quite often unsettling and frightening.
Here's an excerpt from "The Bells:"
Oh, the bells, bells, bells!
What a tale their terror tells
How they clang, and clash, and roar!
What a horror they outpour
On the bosom of the palpitating air!
Yet the ear it fully knows,
By the twanging,
And the clanging,
How the danger ebbs and flows;
Yet the ear distinctly tells,
In the jangling,
And the wrangling.
A popular fairy tale widely believed to be true is the "Pied Piper of Hamelin." The piper supposedly led children away from their families in Germany during the Middle Ages.
Robert Browning, a poet who popularized the dramatic monologue, wrote an onomatopoeia poem about the pied piper:
There was a rustling that seemed like a bustling
Of merry crowds justling at pitching and hustling,
Small feet were pattering, wooden shoes clattering,
Little hands clapping and little tongues chattering,
And, like fowls in a farm-yard when barley is scattering...
Gwendolyn Brooks was an American author who wrote during the years of the civil rights movement. As an African-American woman, Brooks experienced many of the trials and tribulations associated with being black during a tumultuous time in the history of the United States.
She often poured these experiences into her poetry, which used sensory language to depict a variety of different ideas, scenarios, and stories. She later became Poet Laureate Consultant for her work.
Brooks' poem "Cynthia in the Snow" uses onomatopoeia to depict a girl's thoughts about the effects of snow:
The loudness in the road.
And laughs away from me.
It laughs a lovely whiteness,
And whitely whirls away,
Still white as milk or shirts,
So beautiful it hurts.
Carl Sandburg was so poor as a child, he had to drop out of school at the age of 13 to help support his family. Sandburg worked odd jobs until he was finally able to resume his education. Certainly, he rebounded because he went on to write volumes of poetry, two of which received the Pulitzer Prize.
This exciting poem is filled with onomatopoeia that takes us right into a honky tonk in Cleveland, as this excerpt shows:
It's a jazz affair, drum crashes and cornet razzes.
The trombone pony neighs and the tuba jackass snorts.
The banjo tickles and titters too awful.
If you ever want to share in the talents of other blossoming writers, Poetry Soup is a fun website to visit. From there, Victoria Reome's "Rain Dance Poem" is not only a salute to poetry, it's also ripe with onomatopoeia as you'll see in this extract:
When a poem is born
What is the chance
Of words in rain
Drip drop dance
Ping ting sing
Pitter patter rhyme
Rain dance acceleration
Makes my poem climb
Dribble drench drizzle
Thinking on the fence
Sprinkle splish splash
Bring balance to my sense
Onomatopoeia is a fancy term for a word that mimics a sound. In fact, it has its roots in two Greek words: onama, meaning "name" and poiein, meaning "to make." Onomatopoeia literally means, "to make a name (or sound)." For example:
What do you think? Are you ready to try your hand at an onomatopoeia poem? Or any type of poem for that matter? Enjoy this breakdown of the different types of poems. Then, then you're ready to spread your wings, review these writing tips and let your creativity fly.