33 Poetic Devices and Literary Terms You Should Know

Poetic Devices are the tools poets use to create various effects in their poems. They are similar to the brush, paint, Bezier, crop, zoom tools a Graphic designer uses on PhotoShop or Corel Draw.

These devices are used to intensify the meaning or context of a poem. They are used to create rhyme and melody. Some are even used to create humor and relativity for the reader’s enjoyment.

All poems have poetic devices entrenched in them. They are the condiments that makes a poem a poem.

Most of these devices are also utilized in other works of literature as well thus the synonym, Literary Terms.

While this is not the total list of poetic devices around, they are too many.
We created a well comprehensive list of poetic devices with examples and their usages that would help anyone improve and spice up their poems.

Top Poetic Devices To Utilize For Your Poetry

1.     Verse

We can call verse the opening act of poetry.

Many people use the word verse to mean poetry. Even the dictionary does that too.

Verse would be the lines of writing that eventually develops a work of poetry.

  • Blank verse

This refers to poetry that is written without containing rhymes.

Many poets who do not want to suffer the headache of going through rhyming back and forth dwell in blank verses.

An example of a popular blank verse poem is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet

“But, woe is me, you are so sick of late,
So far from cheer and from your former state,
That I distrust you. Yet, though I distrust,
Discomfort you, my lord, it nothing must. …”

  •  Free Verse

Free versed poems follow the poet. However the creator flows, the poem goes too.

It is up to the poet to determine how his works go. He is under no constriction whatsoever.

  • Rhymed Verse

This include a verse pattern that has a co-ordinated rhyme scheme or pattern.

2.     Idioms/Proverbs

These are poetic devices that reveals hidden messages through them.

There are idioms, proverbs that are unique to every nations/continents.

But in general, they are known to be wise-words.

3.     Jargon

Jargon is a language distinctly peculiar to a particular group or setting.

4.     Mood

The mood of a poem refers to the atmosphere of the work

5.     Rhyme

This is the correspondence in the final sound of two or more lines in poetry.

It is a highly popular poetic device. It also is a feature in most types of poems.

There are certain types of rhymes for various desired effects.

  1. End rhymes – This occurs when two (or more) words at the end of their respective lines rhyme.
  2. Internal rhymes – Internal rhymes are achieved when there a rhyme pattern is achieved within a line of poetry.
  3. Couplet – Couplets are two rhyming patterns in a poem. They are end-rhymes but can only be of two lines. Shakespearean sonnets are made of couplet rhymes.

Figurative Expressions as Poetic Devices

6.     Metaphor

This is a figure of speech that suggests a non-literal similarity between two words, objects or things in a poem.

Metaphor is one of the most used devices in poems.

Its sole focus is direct comparison.

Examples of metaphor:

  • She is a lion, her mouth—a beak.
    This directly compares the lady to a lion and her mouth to a beak.
  • He lives in the heart of the tree.

This implies living in the center of the tree.

Metaphor unlike Simile has various usages and forms which require a further reader to be fully understood. Learn all about metaphor and its other uses and forms here.

7.     Litotes

This is a figurative expression that utilizes understatement to prove a point.

It usually makes a point by denying the opposite of the truth. So litotes is a poet saying the truth but not directly making the claim.

Example of litotes in a conversation

Wife: How do I look, dear?
Husband: You are not looking bad.

The husband is saying she is beautiful but is not saying so directly.

8.     Simile

Also similar to the metaphor, Simile compares two objects in a poem.

In most cases, simile compares two things that are comparable in a literal manner.

E.g, love in the heart as being endless as the waters in the ocean.

It uses the words ‘like’ or ‘as’ in making these comparison.

A simile is utilized to make the reader look at something in a different perspective.

Examples:

  • My love for you is as vast and deep as the ocean.
    This line compares the height of their love for their partner to the depth of the ocean.
  • Ade is as strong as a lion
    This compares Ade’s strength to that of a lion. In a way, readers are made to see Ade as a really strong person.

9.     Pun

Pun is one of the most fun poetic devices to include in poetry.

It is a humorous play on words.

Also known as Paronomasia.

It is used by poets to heighten the mood in a poem.

Examples of Puns include:

  • If ten-ants live in my house, does that make me a landlord?
  • A bicycle doesn’t run for so long, why?. Because it is two-tired.

10. Alliteration

Alliteration is use of the same consonant at the beginning of each stressed syllable in a line of verse.

This device utilizes the repetition of consonant sounds (usually at the beginning of words) to create a poetic feel in the work.

Examples of Alliteration in poems:

  • Peter prayed for Papa’s safe recovery (P is alliterated in this line)
  • “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary…” – Edgar Allen Poe, “The Raven”

11. Consonance

This is the repetition of a specific consonant within close length in a poem.

Not to be confused with alliteration, which is the repetition of a consonant sound at the beginning of words in a poem.

Consonance is usually at the end of words unlike alliteration which falls at the beginning of words in a poem.

12. Assonance

Assonance is the repetition of similar vowel syllables in a line of poetry.

It can be said as the direct alternate to alliteration (which used consonants).

Example of Assonance

  • In Edgar Allen Poe’s The Bells


“Hear the loud alarum bells—
Brazen bells!/ What tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their affright!
Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek,
Out of tune….”

In the work, Poe utilizes sharp and high-pitched vowels to echo the sound of bells.

There are a lot of /I/ and /E/ in the work if well noticed.

13. Oxymoron

Oxymoron is arrived at through the placement of two contradictory words in a line.

These words are usually opposite in meaning and thus opposing themselves in a line of poetry.

It is used to express truth, event in contradiction.

Phrases such as bitter-sweet, open-secret, beautiful-sadness, deafening-silent, loud-hush are all oxymoronic statements.

Examples of Oxymorons

  • The matter became an open-secret in the organization.
  • My past love affair was a bitter-sweet experience.

14.  Antithesis

Here’s the brother of direct relative of Oxymoron.

It has the same definition. The only important difference between these them is that the contradictory words in antithesis are not usually placed side-by-side as in the case of an oxymoron.

  • The dead have all come back to life
  • The major illness we though he had was in fact a minor one.

15. Symbolism

Symbolism is the use of signs, events, objects, characters, to represent other things that are beyond them.

Both in difference and in reality, symbolism infuses objects with a meaning that is different from their original meaning or function

Almost anything can be symbolized in literature and more importantly, in poetry.

Examples of the usage of Symbolism in poems

  • In Gabriel Okara’s Piano and Drums,  the poet uses the two musical instruments ‘Piano & Drums’ to symbolize difference levels of civilizations.

    Piano represented the Western Culture, with its advancement, features, technicalities and Drums to represent the native African cultures, the peace, joy and crudeness of it.
  • Another poem that majorly leverages on this poetic device to pass a message is The Anvil and the Hammer by Kofi Awoonor. This poem also utilizes both tools, the modern and traditional to symbolize two distant levels of civilization.

16. Run-on-line/enjambment (Enjambment)

You ever read a poem that didn’t made send after you read just a line?

Not till you continued with the second line did you understand what is really being said.

That’s a run-on-line.

It is used in a line of poetry when the thought or phrase of the poet is yet to be completed. The line continues on next line.

It is usually marked with (—) by many poets.

Sometimes, enjambments make reading poetry interesting so I implore you to try it out.

17. Climax

In poetry, climax is a figurative expression that chronologizes things in the ascending order of importance.

Examples of climax in poetry is

  • When he died, she lost—

Her pin, her phone and her life

  • His wife left him with nothing
    but his heart, house and mobile phone.

18. Anti-climax

The opposite of climax.

It chronologizes happenings in a poem in their descending order of importance.

19.  Hyperbole

Deliberate use of exaggeration in poetry.

Hyperbole is just usually employed for dramatic purposes in poetry.

Examples of hyperboles

  •  I counted all the stars in the sky but still couldn’t find you.
    Can one count all the stars?
  • He is as heavy as a house.

20. Repetition

This is deliberation tautology of ideas or even words in poetry.

It is used by poets to create emphasis on a point or idea in the poem.

Some tag this device Tautology.

Exmaple of the usage of repetition in a poem is

  • Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.”

The sentence “do not go gentle into that good night” is repeated so many times. This lays emphasis on the sentence and further supports the message of the poem.

21. Cliché

This is just as the normal meaning.

A cliché is an over-used expression.

22. Irony

Irony is contradictory statement or situation which is usually employed to a reality contrary to what appears to be true

Examples of irony

  • He indeed is so neat that his room smells of rotten food.
  • He is so rich that all his family can’t afford a three-square meal.

23. Paradox

Paradox is a statement which appears to be nonsensical at first glance but actually makes sense when though upon.

It uses a contradiction of ideas to reveal an unexpected verity of things.

Examples of paradox

  • The man murdered his own sun.
  • The sun is also a star

24. Rhetorics

Better known as Rhetorical Question.

These are statements which do not necessarily invoke or require a response from the reader. Instead, they require being thought upon as they make a point.

Examples of rhetorical question in a poem

  • Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?”

“Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?”

Of course, she poet was a woman but the question is referring to the racial system that deprived black women the ability to vote.

So yes, she is a woman but that was really not the question.

25. Apostrophe

Apostrophe is a device in which a person references a thing or another person that is not physically present.
It is usually in a conversation-like manner whereby the poets act as though they are having a discussion with someone who isn’t present or real.

Example of apostrophe

  • Twinkle Twinkle, little star
    How I wonder what you are…

26. Allegory

Allegories are stories with morals.

Most allegories contain a secondary meaning to their reality.

Allegories are also known as fables,

Examples of works centered on allegories include

  • George Orwell’s The Animal Farm. The fable itself is talking about the imbalance and partiality that existed amidst the farm of Mr. Orwell.
    However, the entire work itself is a direct replication of what was ongoing in George’s home country which inspired the work.
  • The Ant and the Grasshopper too is another brilliant allegory.

27. Imagery

Imagery is an important and highly valuable poetic device for poets to include in their works.

Imagery is really about evoking a mental image in the mind of the reader through poetry.

It involves the creation of a visual picture in your reader’s mind.

You do not necessarily have to draw in your poems to invoke this device.

Imagery has a lot to do associating the right words to represent or evoke a visual representation in your poems. Words that represent sound, light, dark, loneliness and other contexts surrounding the poem are what invokes imagery in a work.

28. Metonymy

This poetic device is a kind of metaphor that interchanges a thing for  another that is closely related to it.

Examples of metonymy

  •  “Go google the answer”
    The worlds’s largest search engine is used to replace ‘making a search on the internet for a query’.
  • Aso Rock is giant of Africa a whole.
    Aso Rock is used to represent Nigeria as it is the stay-place of the heads of the nations.

29. Synecdoche

Synecdoche is similar to metonymy.

However, it is the use of a part to represent a whole thing.

Such as a part of a body to represent a person (a whole body).

Examples of synecdoche

  • There were three hundred heads at the event
    Heads is substituted in this context for the whole body.
    So a head is used to represent a person. This this line means “there were three hundred people …”
  • Get all hands on deck

This means to get everyone’s attention to a cause.

30. Personification

Personification occurs in a poem when you give an inanimate/abstract things or idea human abilities such as laughter, hands, smile.

Examples of personification in works

  • His bad deeds couldn’t escape the long arm of the law.
  • The sun smiles through the window at noon
  • The earth

31. Onomatopoeia

This is the element of sound in poetry.

Onomatopoeia represents the use or imitation of sounds to create an aura that displays the sound of what is being discussed.

Examples of onomatopoeia

  • The rattling of the roof above made his head pound.
    This imitates the sounds made by roof when rain falls. It is used to represent a poetic aura of rainfall.
  • The car zoomed off from my presence.

32. Allusion

Allusion is the use of references to pass directly or indirectly pass a poetic message.

References can be made from many and anything.

Historical happenings, myth, legends, movies, books, live occurrences can be used as allusions.

One of the most commoly alluded works is the Bible. Many characters, happenings in the Bible have been referenced by poets from time to time.

Examples of allusion in poems:

  • …blue Peter on empty ships
    all Peters with pettered-out desires

Peter in Ambush by Gbemisola Adeoti is a biblical allusion to Apostle Peter, as a fisherman.

33. Euphemism

Euphemism is the act of substituting a harsh expression or word for one that is milder and less harmful or harsh.

Euphemism are usually utilized when trying to dowse down the mounting tension of a word in a poem.

Example

  • His Grandma had earlier kicked the bucket.
    This means his grandma died but is said in a way that it doesn’t trigger the reader.

We’ve delivered more than 30 poetic devices for your usage.

As you utilize them in your poems, do well to remember to publish those works on the poetry sites that would appreciate them.

Also, we created a resource if you want to learn more types of poetry.

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