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Wheeler English

Lines & Rhymes: Figures of Speech

FIGURE OF SPEECH : A mode of expression in which words are used out of their literal meaning or out of their ordinary use in order to add beauty or emotional intensity or to transfer the poet's sense impressions by comparing or identifying one thing with another that has a meaning familiar to the reader. Some important figures of speech are: simile, metaphor, personification, hyperbole and symbol.
SIMILE: A figure of speech in which an explicit comparison is made between two essentially unlike things, usually using like, as or than, as in Burns', "O, my luve's like A Red, Red Rose" or Shelley's "As still as a brooding dove," in The Cloud.

Sidelight: Similes in which the parallel is developed and extended beyond the initial comparison, often being sustained through several lines, are called epic or Homeric similes, since

METAPHOR: A figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one object or idea is applied to another, thereby suggesting a likeness or analogy between them, as

     The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.                  --- Edward Fitzgerald, The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

     I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!                  --- Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ode to the West Wind                .   .   . The cherished fields   

   Put on their winter robe of purest white.                  --- James Thomson, The Seasons

Sidelight: While most metaphors are nouns, verbs can be used as well:        Till the calm rivers, lakes, and seas,      Like strips of the sky fallen through me on high,        Are each paved with the moon and these.                  --- Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Cloud

PERSONIFICATION : A type of metaphor in which distinctive human characteristics, e.g., honesty, emotion, volition, etc., are attributed to an animal, object or idea, as "The haughty lion surveyed his realm" or "My car was happy to be washed" or "'Fate frowned on his endeavors." Personification is commonly used in allegory.
SYMBOL: An image transferred by something that stands for or represents something else, like flag for country, or autumn for maturity. Symbols can transfer the ideas embodied in the image without stating them, as in Robert Frost's Acquainted With the Night, in which night is symbolic of death or depression, or Sara Teasdale's The Long Hill, in which the climb up the hill symbolizes life and the brambles are symbolic of life's adversities.
HYPERBOLE (hi-PER-buh-lee) : A bold, deliberate overstatement, e.g., "I'd give my right arm for a piece of pizza." Not intended to be taken literally, it is used as a means of emphasizing the truth of a statement. Sidelight: A type of hyperbole in which the exaggeration magnified so greatly that it refers to an impossibility is called an adynaton.
LITOTES (LIH-tuh-teez, pl. LIH-toh-teez) : A type of meiosis (understatement) in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of the contrary, as in "not unhappy" or "a poet of no small stature."
IMAGERY, IMAGE: The elements in a literary work used to evoke mental images, not only of the visual sense, but of sensation and emotion as well. While most commonly used in reference to figurative language, imagery is a variable term which can apply to any and all components of a poem that evoke sensory experience, whether figurative or literal, and also applies to the concrete things so imaged.
FIGURE OF SOUND : Sometimes called sound devices, these include onomatopoeia, alliteration, assonance, consonance, euphony, resonance, and others. Not all of these are considered figures of speech, exactly, but they're included here because they're part of what you'll find it you look closely at the language and word choice of may poem. They work hand-in-hand with rhythm and all types of rhyme.
ALLITERATION: Also called head rhyme or initial rhyme, the repetition of the initial sounds (usually consonants) of stressed syllables in neighboring words or at short intervals within a line or passage, usually at word beginnings, as in "wild and woolly" or the line from Shelley's The Cloud: I bear light shade for the leaves when laid Sidelight: Alliteration has a gratifying effect on the sound, gives a reinforcement to stresses, and can also serve as a subtle connection or emphasis of key words in the line, but alliterated words should not "call attention" to themselves by strained usage.
ASSONANCE : The relatively close juxtaposition of the same or similar vowel sounds, but with different end consonants in a line or passage, thus a vowel rhyme, as in the words, date and fade.
ONOMATOPOEIA (ahn-uh-mah-tuh-PEE-uh): Strictly speaking, the formation or use of words which imitate sounds, like whispering, clang and sizzle, but the term is generally expanded to refer to any word whose sound is suggestive of its meaning. Sidelight: Because sound is an important part of poetry, the use of onomatopoeia is another subtle weapon in the poet's arsenal for the transfer of sense impressions through imagery, as in Keats' "The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves," in Ode to a Nightingale.. Sidelight: Though impossible to prove, some philologists (linguistic scientists) believe that all language originated through the onomatopoeic formation of words.
CACOPHONY (cack-AH-fuh-nee or cack-AW-fuh-nee) : Discordant sounds in the jarring juxtaposition of harsh letters or syllables, sometimes inadvertent, but often deliberately used in poetry for effect, as in the lines from Whitman's The Dalliance of Eagles:

      The clinching interlocking claws, a living, fierce, gyrating wheel,
      Four beating wings, two beaks, a swirling mass tight grappling,
      In tumbling turning clustering loops, straight downward falling,

Sidelight: Sound devices are important to poetic effects; to create sounds appropriate to the content, the poet may sometimes prefer to achieve a cacophonous effect instead of the more commonly sought-for euphony. The use of words with the consonants b, k and p, for example, produce harsher sounds than the soft f and v or the liquid l, m and n.

CAESURA (siz-YUR-uh): A rhythmic break or pause in the flow of sound which is commonly introduced in about the middle of a line of verse, but may be varied for different effects. Usually placed between syllables rhythmically connected in order to aid the recital as well as to convey the meaning more clearly, it is a pause dictated by the sense of the content or by natural speech patterns, rather than by metrics. It may coincide with conventional punctuation marks, but not necessarily. A caesura within a line is indicated in scanning by the symbol (||), as in the first line of Emily Dickinson's, I'm Nobody! Who Are You?

I'm no | body! || Who are | you?

Sidelight: As a grammatical, rhythmic, and dramatic device, as well as an effective means of avoiding monotony, the caesura is a powerful weapon in the skilled poet's arsenal.

Sidelight: Since caesura and pause are often used interchangeably, it is better to use metrical pause for the type of "rest" which compensates for the omission of a syllable.


figures of speech