Symbols, from:

The more you read and study literature, the more you will come across words that always function symbolically. The seasons are a perfect example. Winter represents aging, decay, and death; spring is often used to represent energy, birth, and hope; summer is symbolic of childhood, fun, and laughter; autumn stands for maturity, wisdom, and fulfilment.

Other typical examples include the scales to symbolize justice; a dove for peace, the rose, purity; the stars and stripes, America; the lion, strength and courage, and so on.

Things get a little harder, though, when a poet creates a new symbol. You then have to study the poem carefully and ask yourself which word has a central place in the poem or which word transforms other elements in the poem. The albatross in Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a case in point. The albatross is a recurring character, and it symbolizes the suffering that the mariner is going through.

Sometimes symbols can be straightforward, but more often it is not easy to say exactly what they symbolize. In Blake's "The Tyger," for instance, the tiger could be a symbol of great energy and creativity, but it could also mean many other things. The same applies to Coleridge's albatross. You can guess at the meaning but can never be quite sure. Always remember when discussing symbols and symbolism in poetry that they are rich and complex and have many layers of meaning. Rather than using the words "stands for" or "points to" when you discuss them, try to use words like "suggests" or "expresses" or "represents."

From Rachel Lindley:

....A cross is a symbol. A red rose is a symbol. A skull and crossbones is a symbol. A dove is a symbol. Road signs are symbols. I don't have to tell you what they symbolise, because you already know. At least, you do if I use symbols that you have been exposed to. However, symbols don't have to be cultural ones, like a menorah or a stop sign. Say you write about a horrible fight between a long-married couple, and in her distress the woman accidentally knocks a crystal vase off a table and it shatters into a million pieces. As the story progresses, glass breaking becomes a running occurrence. The breaking glass could be seen as a symbol of the relationship between the couple breaking apart, never to be repaired....

In small groups design, share and complete your own fun activities; activities that will help you understand, remember, revise, find and discuss symbols in poetry and literature.