This is your one-stop-shop for every poetic technique you need to know to effectively analyse poetry!
Do you lack confidence discussing poetic techniques? Don’t worry, we got your back! In this article, we will show you a whole variety of different poetic techniques, explain what they are and provide examples.
Too often, students simply focus on literary techniques when they are analysing poems.
However, this will not get you the best possible marks because you are not analysing the form of the text.
So, let’s see what the different poetic techniques are.
Analysing poem is different from analysing novels or short stories. They are written with limited words and vague phrases.
That’s why it is essential that poets rely on other elements to create meaning: sound, structure and arrangement, and images (visual, olfactory, tactile, auditory and gustatory).
Poets rely on sounds to create particular atmospheres and tones. These shapes the audience’s emotions and gives an indication of the poem’s themes and message.
Some techniques that rely on sound are:
A poet is able to control the arrangement of the whole poem, the stanzas, lines and even the syllables of each word to create meaning. These particular structures help the poet create a particular atmosphere.
Here are some techniques that relate to the structure of the poem:
Poets often deal with more abstract ideas and themes in a limited amount of words. That’s why they need to create a particular atmosphere with the least amount of words possible.
This is often achieved through strong visual, olfactory, tactile, auditory and gustatory images. These images shape the atmosphere, foreshadows events and can also have symbolic meaning.
Some techniques that rely on images are:
Since poems rely on limited words, poets heavily rely on symbolism to effectively convey meaning and their message. One image, word or phrase is capable of representing a whole abstract idea.
Here are some techniques that help create meaning:
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Here is an extensive list of poetic techniques you must know!
Alliteration is the repetition of the beginning sound of 2 or more words placed near one another.
Poets use alliteration to set a mood, emphasise a subject or create a memorable image.
For example, softer consonants like ‘l’, ‘y’ or ‘h’ creates a romantic atmosphere, whereas harsher sounds like ‘k’, or ‘t’ seems more confronting.
Other sounds hold connotations. For example, the ‘s’ sounds mirror a snake’s hiss, which evokes feelings of danger.
Between the hands, between the brows,
Between the lips of Love-Lily,
A spirit is born whose birth endows
My blood with fire to burn through me;
Rossetti uses alliteration of ‘b’ sound throughout the whole stanza – ‘between’, ‘brows’, ‘born’, ‘birth’, ‘blood’ and ‘burn’ – to emphasise his feelings of love.
Antimetabole is when the words of the first clause is reversed in the second clause. (Not to be confused with chiasmus)
This creates a ringing effect and emphasises the line.
“All for one and one for all!“
This is a memorable line that’s used as a motif throughout this novel.
Assonance refers to the repetition of the vowels in words that are in close proximity to each other.
Like alliteration, assonance is used to create a certain atmosphere or a mood.
Words will long vowels tend to sound more mellow or serious, whereas words with short vowels create a lighter atmosphere.
“When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,“
Keats uses assonance of the ‘ee’ sound. This creates a dragged out effect that seems to slow time.
Anaphora is the repetition of the first word or clause of consecutive sentences.
It helps create a rhythm, makes the line more memorable and draws emotions. It can also be used symbolically.
“Out of the cradle endlessly rocking,
Out of the mocking-bird’s throat, the musical shuttle,
Out of the Ninth-month midnight,“
Whitman heavily relies on anaphora throughout his whole poem. It creates a repetitive feeling that imitates a rocking cradle.
Ballads are poems that narrate a story and are usually accompanied by a song.
They are traditionally written as a quatrains (4 lines) with a strict rhyme scheme and metre:
However, over time, ballad conventions have shifted. Now, there are different types of ballads like:
Cacophony refers to a combination of harsh, chaotic, and/or discordant (unharmonious) sounds. This is often achieved through repetition of harsh consonant sounds like ‘k’, ‘g’, ‘p’ ‘t’, ‘ch’, and ‘sh’.
Poets use cacophony to make their readers feel negative emotions like frustration, disgust, discomfort or interest.
“Ich, ich, ich, ich”
“The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you…
“There’s a stake in your fat black heart“
Plath uses words and phrases like “ich, ich, ich, ich”, “boot”, “brute”, “stake” and “fat black heart” to capture her feelings of anger. These are very explosive and harsh sounds.
Chiasmus is when the structure of one clause is reversed in the following clause. (Not to be confused with antimetabole)
The ideas of both clauses must be related to each other to be considered chiasmus.
Poets use chiasmus to create a cyclical or ringing effect. It also puts more emphasis on the line.
“Adam, first of men,
To first of women, Eve“
Confessional poetry is a type of poetry that emerged during the 1950s in USA. Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell are 2 notable poets who began writing confessional poetry.
These poets tend to reflect their psyche and experiences by controlling the rhythm, metre, visual images and symbols of the poem.
As such, the poems are self-revelatory and explores personal subjects. Often, it refers to real events and people and is quite confronting.
Two lines of poetry that rhyme with each other. Also, they sometimes have the same metre.
Couplets are memorable because of their rhyme and metre. It can also add emphasis to the liens.
“So, lovers dream a rich and long delight,
But get a winter-seeming summer’s night.”
Enjambment is when a sentence runs over into the next line or stanza.
Lines with enjambment are incomplete and won’t make sense on its own. As such, readers are compelled to continue reading the next line.
“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.“
Eliot uses enjambment to symbolise the never ending effects of war.
Words that work together to create a harmonious and pleasing sound to the ears.
Longer vowels (like a, o…) and soft consonants (like m, r, and l) sound more melodious compared to the harsh explosive sounds of cacophony.
Poets tend to use euphony to create a calm, pleasant and even magical auditory imagery.
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Robert Frost
The ‘l’, ‘ee’ and ‘i’ sounds (in ‘miles’, ‘sleep’ and ‘lovely’) are euphonic. It sounds almost dream-like.
Free verse refers to poetry with no rules. There are no strict rhyme schemes, structure or metres.
The lack of structure give poets more artistic expression. This means that poems with free verse can have any effect; it can sound chaotic, free-flowing, like a story etc.
Metre refers to the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables within a line. We have an article that explains what metre is in detail and show you how to analyse it.
In summary, metre creates a rhythm within a poem and gives it a melodic element.
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Shakespeare uses iambic pentameter in his writing to symbolise the rigid beliefs of the divine rights and fate.
Mood refers to the atmosphere of the poem. (Note: It is different from tone)
To help you figure it out, think about the emotions that are conveyed through imagery, rhythm, metre, rhyme schemes etc.
You can use different emotions to describe the mood of the poem. Keep in mind that moods can shift throughout the poem.
Unknown seaman’ – the ghostly pencil
Wavers and fades, the purple drips,
The breath of the wet season has washed their inscriptions
As blue as drowned men’s lips,
Slessor has created an ominous mood with the descriptions of death.
Words that represent the sound made from an object, animal, human or thing.
Poets use onomatopoeia for various reasons; it can add an element of reality, excitement, fear or interest.
Most of all, onomatopoeia is memorable for readers.
“For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.”
Plath uses the word ‘achoo’ instead of ‘sneeze’. This not only makes the line more memorable but it feels uncomfortable and adds to the atmosphere of suffocation.
Repetition refers to words or phrases that are repeated.
It is used to create a sense of rhythm or motif. Also, it can be used to add emphasis on a particular subject and makes it more memorable.
“Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Plath uses repetition for the word ‘beware’ to emphasise the need for caution. This also evokes feelings of fear from the audience.
Rhyme refers to the last sound of a word being repeated in other words. Read our article about rhyme to learn more about what it is and how to analyse it.
Rhyme is used to create a rhythm and also makes the poem more memorable. It can also help establish a certain atmosphere.
“Everything forgiven and in common –
Not that I see her behind you, where I face you,
But like Owen, after his dark poem,
Under the battle, in the catacombs,”
Hughes uses an ABAA rhyme scheme for this stanza. This rhyme scheme creates an echo effect which adds to the ominous atmosphere of the poem.
Rhythm refers to the pattern of sounds in a poem.
Poets can create rhythm through various methods; repetition, rhyme schemes, metre etc.
“Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.”
Eliot creates a sense of rhythm through his repetition of ‘Birth’ and ‘Death’
Round poems are poems that are cyclical (like it’s name!)
This means that the first line and the last line of the poem holds the same abstract idea. This can be a thought, setting or metaphor. It doesn’t have to be written in the same way.
Round poems often illustrate a lack of change or inability to escape.
Something was out there on the lake, just barely
visible in the dark.
I knelt and stared, trying to make it out,
trying to mark
its position relative to mine,
and the picturesque willow, the moon-slivered diving board
on the opposite shore. I listened hard
no sound from it, although I cupped one ear
as I knelt in the cove,
wondering how far I should take this, if I should seek
someone to row out there with me. Yet it didn’t move
or grow darker or lighter. Most shapes,
you know what they are:
a rock-garden serpent, a house in the mist, a man’s head,
an evening star,
but not this one. Whatever was out there kept changing
from large to small.
The mass of a wooden coffin surfaced,
then the head of an owl,
a tree limb, a window, a veil—
I couldn’t resolve it. I ran one hand through my hair
as I stood up, shrugging. I had just turned 50
and whatever it was that might be floating there
I didn’t want it to be. Too much before
that came unbidden into my life
I’d let take me over. I knelt again and stared again.
Something was out there just beyond the cove.
Sonnets are poems made of 1 stanza with 14 lines.
They are usually written in iambic pentameter (see our Metre article to find out more about iambic pentameters) and tend to follow a ABABCDCDEFEFGG rhyme scheme.
Sonnets are usually written about human themes like love, nature and death. It also has melodic elements and sounds like a song; in Italian, the word ‘sonnetto’ means little song.
“Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.“
Tone refers to the poet’s attitude towards a subject in a poem. (Do not confuse with mood)
Like mood, it is created through word choice, metre, rhythm, figurative language etc.
The poet’s tone in a poem affects how readers respond to the subjects in the poem. We can either feel the same way towards a subject as the poet or the opposite.
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.“
Steven us uses a tone of contemplation or uncertainty in this poem. In this particular stanza, the line “I do know know” and the repetition of the word “or” highlights that the persona is unsure of many things in the world.
Villanelles were first written by French poets who were inspired by Italian and Spanish dance songs.
They have a very rigid structure:
They are all gone away,
The House is shut and still,
There is nothing more to say.
Through broken walls and gray
The winds blow bleak and shrill:
They are all gone away.
Nor is there one to-day
To speak them good or ill:
There is nothing more to say.
Why is it then we stray
Around the sunken sill?
They are all gone away,
And our poor fancy-play
For them is wasted skill:
There is nothing more to say.
There is ruin and decay
In the House on the Hill:
They are all gone away,
There is nothing more to say.
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