Tag Archives: assonance

Poem F–The Middle Way

Marie Mouchon nature reserve, Belgium; photo by Luc Viatour, link below

Marie Mouchon nature reserve, Belgium; photo © Luc Viatour GFDL/CC, link below

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Benign Light

To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I am posting  ten of my particular favorites — poems A through J (yes, I had to count off the letters on my fingers). I’d like your comments as we go along and, in particular, when all ten have appeared, your ranking. Which do you like best (10 points)? Least (1 point — I can’t bear the thought of getting Zero points)?

The previous poem, “Life Is Poetry,” you may purge from your memory bank. I think that I was struggling so much with it because it was too weak a vehicle to carry the burden I had placed upon it.

On the other hand — the following poem, “Benign Light (The Middle Way),” also has me a little mystified, but at least it’s a decent poem. It’s complete, it has been complete for a long time, I feel no need to eff around with it, so I can just study it, meditate on it, comfortably, no hurry.

It's a long way to Belgium from here

It's a long way to Belgium from here

Dordogne, Périgord (France)

Dordogne, Périgord (France), © Luc Viatour GFDL/CC

The photograph above and the one at right were taken by Luc Viatour, who is hands down the best photographer I have ever known, although I don’t actually know him, in the sense of having ever seen or spoken with him, inasmuch as he lives in Belgium and I live in Nebraska, though we have exchanged a few brief e-mails. He is very generous with his gazillions of spectacular images, and I illustrated most of my first book, Unfamiliar Territory, with his photographs.

Unfamiliar Territory would be a perfect Valentine’s Day gift, it occurs to me…. And while I’m engaging in blatant self-promotion, I might as well let you know that you can buy “Benign Light,” beautifully illustrated and sold in an 8-1/2-by-11-inch “frameless” frame, for, um, $19.99, with free shipping.

"Benign Light," $19.99

"Benign Light," $19.99

Benign Light (The Middle Way)

Benign, warm light inclines organic
things the way a cat will arch
contentedly toward a caress. Butter,
used to being cool, relaxes its
oppressive form and angularity
when carelessly left on the table by
the window. I used to love to sleep
in pools of sunlight, inching westward, creeping
toward the warmth, as hatchlings blindly cling
to Mama in the nest.

I held a match too long once, lighting birthday
candles on a marble cake with chocolate
frosting; though the little burn scarred
smooth, it smarted fierce for days. That’s when
I learned about the middle way and how
to look for balance in a contest of
extremes. But even in the agony,
innocuous as it may seem in
retrospect, of injuring a toe
or shin or elbow, when you hop about
for no good reason you can think of, there’s
a wakening of senses you’d forgotten
and a memory of the birth of feeling.
So, still cautious, you allow a bit
of gentle light to enter and to
circulate around the tender places,
so long unexposed, at first they shy
away but then are drawn as moth to flame.
And you remind yourself, “the middle way,”
and seek the shade. But something of the glow
remains, for passers-by peer in and say
to one another, “Look! A firefly.”

© Luc Viatour GFDL/CC

© Luc Viatour GFDL/CC

Students

  1. Re “the middle way and how to look for balance in a contest of extremes” — give an example of a “contest of extremes” one might encounter.
  2. Why does the narrator “seek the shade”?
  3. Why a marble cake? Why not sponge cake or coffee cake? There are at least two “correct” answers to this question.
  4. This poem uses commonplace devices (rhyming, pentameter) in rather unconventional ways. How does this practice reinforce the meaning of the poem?

Do you see a bear there?

Yogi Bear

Yogi Bear

The appearance of a poem — the way it looks on the page — can be a poetic device, though it’s one I’ve never used, at least deliberately. But as I was writing a little poem for my granddaughter’s birthday, it struck me that the poem’s shape was similar to the profile of a famous bear — either Yogi (because of the flat head) or Winnie-the-Pooh, I’m not sure which. What do you think?

To Maggie on Her Birthday

You are so dear to me; there is so
much of me in you; and if you find
that frightening, then let me hasten
to assure you: It is Lovely being me;
I like myself enormously, and if some
say I’m slightly out of touch with what
they call reality, what do THEY know?
We all create our own reality, or partially,
or everyone would be the same, and even
the most skeptical agree — they name it
“existentialism” — they can’t help it,
naming things, I mean.

When dreamers say “Follow
Your Dreams,” it’s more than
a cliché, and those who choose
in favor of expediency, becoming
dental-floss distributors, perhaps
(there’s nothing WRONG with that,
if it’s the path that’s lit for you), may
someday wish the toss had gone the
other way. “We are what we pretend
to be” (Kurt Vonnegut), and there is
an infinity of glorious potentialities to
draw upon, not all at once, of course,
but bit by bit, as one will flutter past,
you snap it up, examine it, and keep
the best of what it has that fits. “Be
who you are” is HUGE and TRUE,
reliably, and has been throughout
history, that old banality that
is the key to liberty at last. It
means no matter what you
do, the hard, unblemished
core of individuality that
is uniquely YOU is built
of shards of love and
overfilled with joy,
is solid, beautiful,
unchanging, safe,
and permanent,
and absolutely
necessary to
the Universe.

Pooh with Kanga and Piglet

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Poem D

Des Moines, Iowa, early 20th century; Dad was born in Des Moines in 1913

Des Moines, Iowa, early 20th century; this postcard features seven church spires; Dad was born in Des Moines in 1913

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The Morris Chair

Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa

My maternal grandmother graduated from Drake University in Des Moines, some time before 1900; my paternal grandmother was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Oberlin, also before 1900

To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I am posting  ten of my particular favorites — poems A through J (yes, I had to count off the letters on my fingers). I’d like your comments as we go along and, in particular, when all ten have appeared, your ranking. Which do you like best (10 points)? Least (1 point — I can’t bear the thought of getting Zero points)?

Students: Name as many rhetorical devices used in this poem as you can. Here are a few for free: assonance, metaphor, simile, apostrophe….

Dad (left) and his brothers, around 1940

Dad (left) and his brothers, around 1940

The Morris Chair

for Dan Campbell, 1913-1985

Once ordinary oak and textile, it
became your incarnation’s residence
of preference, your citadel, in fact; and
since its frame and cast, at first, were hostile
to your contours, something had to give — and
there, the victory was yours; the Morris
never had a prayer.

As sitting folks will do, you made a firm
impression on the worsted cushion. Its
topography was less an object of
erosion than redistribution, and, in
time, the planet was reshaped: a plateau
here, a gully there… a landscape; where
before had been mere serviceable flatness,
there was now a valley sculpted by an
adamance of muscle, bone, and flesh.

After the armistice, you and the Morris were
compatible as are the angled pieces
of a jigsaw puzzle, which is why, when
anybody else might try to sit
upon the thing, that individual
would find it uncongenial — not rigid,
really, or relenting, never that — no,
just tenacious of its silhouette,
true to its architect, and guardian of
your indelible effect.

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Poem C

Lily of the valley

Lily of the valley

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A Mother’s Prayer

To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I am posting  ten of my particular favorites — poems A through J (yes, I had to count off the letters on my fingers). I’d like your comments as we go along and, in particular, when all ten have appeared, your ranking. Which do you like best (10 points)? Least (1 point — I can’t bear the thought of getting Zero points)?

Students: Name as many rhetorical devices used in this poem as you can.

Grassy valley under a blue sky

My space inviolate—grassy valley under a splendid sky

My Space Inviolate

My space inviolate, circle of safety, whitewashed
in whorls of sweet sunlit air. Here is a cradle;
here is a lullaby; here is the wild strawberry,
here is the lily of the valley, in the shade, these
unpretentious in their scent and in their aspect.
Charmed, I fill my lungs with earth and flower
essence, and my heart with innocence —
nothing tainted is permitted here;
I fill my sight with creamy pastel spring
blooms and new yellow-green sweet grass.
Angels who whirled in the dance now sit quietly,
expectantly, one who is wise beside me.

New spring grass

New spring grass

Meditate this hour on your angelic
guardians, whose charge is but to guide you
to your joy. Now rest and dream, and when
you rise, put on the vestments of your power.

All that is kind; all things for love; all hope for
harmony, you’ve just to ask. It is our only task
to give you ease, to please you, to create
a clean, unsullied heart in you, fulfilling
what you’ve chanted at the precipice
of sleep, so near believing all these years.
Look! Every tear you spent for love and
penitence is sacred; each was shed in
honest pain, and we have saved them for
this baptism.

Raindrops on ficus leaves

Raindrops on ficus leaves

Be happy, then. Know that we look after
him and mend his heart, so sore and
unprotected. There! It is done,
and he has seen the messengers of his
salvation, and believed. Then we embraced him
with a lambence that will cleave to him. You
need to understand that love like this,
angels cannot resist. It’s manna, meat and
drink to us. Now you must let him go;
now do release him; entrust him to us.
We shall keep him in an easy custody,
his warden shall be bliss.

Here in this circle is no place for fear.
Nothing feeds it here. Now be serene,
as you were meant to be, for all is well.
The insignificant, pathetic demons
from the place called “hell,” which is no place
at all, but just a state of mind, were chased
away, by saying, “Boo,” and making faces
at them. And yet they scare you so,
they interrupt your dancing— as if they were
substantial… as if they were not less than air.

Cattails


Poem B

Jordan River

The Jordan River

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Waiting for the Light: A Meditative Poem for Advent

To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I am posting  ten of my particular favorites — poems A through J (yes, I had to count off the letters on my fingers). I’d like your comments as we go along and, in particular, when all ten have appeared, your ranking. Which do you like best (10 points)? Least (1 point — I can’t bear the thought of getting Zero points)?

Tulips, Canberra; photo by John O'Neill

Tulips, Canberra; photo by John O'Neill

Like many of my poems, “Dead Stones” was inspired by the title of the Bach cantata BWV 106: “God’s Time Is the Best Time (“Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit”). Bach might have had death and funerals in mind, but I have found that “God’s time” truly IS “the best time” for major passages in life. Something that would have been impossible yesterday, or would have required struggle and travail, flows easily today. You have to learn to read the signs.

It’s like, you know, the time for tulips to bloom or babies to be born; it’s generally out of our hands.

Poetry-class students: Look for alliteration, anthropomorphism (pathetic fallacy, personification), anaphora, euphony, apposition, and assonance. Describe the meter.

Dead Stones

I’ve seen you fulminate and shake your fist
at all the monoliths and caverns met,
immovable as Jupiter from Earth —
as inhospitable and cold  — assailed
in vain, in agonies of thwarted aim —
with blood and sweat and tears expended, all
for naught; in years abandoned to the joust
with still, insensate obstacles that won’t
or can’t apologize, that cast no eye
on their defiers, neither pitiful
nor hostile, lacking choice, remaining where
they fell, their tombs, finality without
a voice to mock, without a will to move
or to remain immobile, barely scarred,
unmindful of the cataracts whose birth
within the rock is just as silent, just
as still, and just as certain. These now swell
as flood surrounds and enters every rent
and pore and cavity, where steady rain,
insidiously, probes the stony faces.

Now the mountains are made low.
Now the mud begets the stream.
Now the shadow disappears.
Now the blood and sweat and tears
flow together, are redeemed.

Now the carcasses of years
sink into the brittle crust.
Now they make the barren land
generous to growth again;
now absorbing seed and spore.

Only now, and not before.

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Dundee School, Omaha, Nebraska

My school, Dundee Elementary, in Omaha, had a large playground and, between the fence and the wall, wonderful climbing trees and hiding places. I fell off the wall and ruptured my spleen when I was 9. Photo: RDG Planning & Design

In a small literary magazine…

…appeared this poem, my very own! Note rhetorical devices, including pathetic fallacy (anthropomorphism, personification), alliteration, assonance, consonance, simile, metaphor, onomatopoeia, internal rhyme, slant or half rhyme, and others.

Swaddled in Saturday Afternoon

Friday afternoon in early spring
was all but Saturday, and finer in its
way — a long, warm wallowing in
fresh anticipation — no activity
at all, allowing for the effortless,
habitual mobility of youth,
and I had energetic fantasies,
pie in the sky, like every other foolish
girl — I’m certain it’s a rule or ought to
be — uncensored dreams, I mean. How pliable
the world and I were then, how agile my
imagination, deftly crafting Saturday
scenarios and shaping situations on a whim.

Mother Greeting Children After School

Friday afternoon...

In my fringed suede jacket with my long,
brown hair in braids that swished across
my back, I could be Jo March or Annie
Oakley just by wishing to. A lengthening
of stride on pleasant residential
sidewalks, in an instant turned to hard-
packed trails across Nebraska Territory,
I was guiding covered wagons westward,
though unhappily my little pony, Daisy,
had been left behind in Council Bluffs,
recuperating from… from… um… the
hiccups; such a mystifying case,
so strange.

Girl Playing with Leaves

The wind changed...

The wind changed. Balmy just a tick ago,
the day turned strangely dark, and
cold, quick puffs of what remained of
winter merged into a gale. I loosed my
braided hair and let the wind do what it
would. I knew (the wind did not), no
matter how it tugged and turned, no
ordinary wind could separate my hair
and skin — a small but gratifying
evidence of power, to tease the elements
that way, and win. And with such grand,
decisive triumphs, Saturdays begin.

Kids in Spring

Oh! Here they come...

There was a wild and wooded place, if
only ten feet wide or so, that circumscribed
the park. Good climbing trees were there, and
shrubs to hide in while you waited for
Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp to ride in
from their day of keeping lawlessness
at bay. I must be canny and adjust
my brim, so it just skims my eyes. Oh! Here they
come! Alas! It isn’t they, not then! It’s
Robin and his Merry Men, and I, Maid
Marian, again defied the wind and
pinned my tousled hair into a prim,
aristocratic bun, with tendrils tumbling
‘round my face.

Mom Serving Lunch

...for there was lemonade...

The wind abated and the sun peeked out.
I leaned against the Gallaghers’ red maple tree
and watched the play of shade and glimmer in
the variegated canopy and felt
the muffled thrum that was the rhythm of
a Saturday in spring, the quieting
of afternoon in placid neighborhoods.
I heard my mother mixing commerce with
a bit of gossip as the Alamito
Dairy man, whose name was John, sold butter,
half-and-half, and cottage cheese, and muttered
something he had gleaned from Mrs. Hahn,
about the Beasleys’ sheltie’s puppies being
weaned, as I recall. I listened to the
uninflected tune of bees around
a clump of lilacs, heard a small child’s bleating
and her mama crooning consolation,
and a screen door with a wicked spring
obedient to physics, snapping like a
shot, too raucous for the soporific
interlude. And why not let myself
be swaddled by the sun, the homely
sounds, the scent of sod just laid, and lilies
of the valley emanating fragrance
disproportionate to their small,
delicate, half-hidden habitat?
Well contented was I then to call
an end to my adventures for a time;
for there were lemonade, and crackers, and
a book to carry to the back yard and my
secret nook between the privet and the
elm, concave as if it had been made
expressly for my shoulder blades.

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    If Only I’d Gone to Parma

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Lesson 16.1 Assignment
    Using Figures of Speech

    Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1.

    Parma in the 15th Century

    Parma in the 15th Century

    Now you are going to begin to write poetically, using the figures of speech defined in Lesson 16.

    There is no need to memorize the terms. What is important is that you become thoroughly familiar with how the elements of rhetoric are used… and that, in using many of them, you will need to reach inside, just a little… enough to call up pictures, emotions, and impressions that transform straightforward prose into poetry.

    Below you will find selected figures of speech with brief definitions and with four numbered sentences under each.

    1. A sentence.
    2. An example of the sentence recast, using the defined figure of speech.
    3. Another sentence.
    4. A place for you to recast (rephrase) the sentence, using the defined figure of speech. It’s okay if you go a little wild, deviating from the strict meaning of the sentence, if that’s where your imagination takes you.

    When you finish the assignment, please e-mail it to me at Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your assignment, but I will return it to you with comments.

    Have fun!

    Parallelism — Repetitive use of a grammatical element

    1. There was nothing I wanted more than to take a hot bath, to climb under the warm covers, and read in bed.
    2. Recast: There was nothing I wanted more than to take a hot bath, to climb under the warm covers, and to read in bed.
    3. The résumé listed her skills as watching television, sleeping late on Saturdays, and computers.
    4. Recast:

    Antithesis — Juxtaposition of opposing or contrasting ideas

    1. You pronounce the word tomato differently than I do.
    2. Jack Sprat preferred skinless chicken, so he gave the skin to his wife. She liked only the greasy parts of meat and poultry.
    3. Recast:
    Ethelred II (the Unready), King of England from 978 to 1016

    Ethelred II (the Unready), King of England from 978 to 1016

    Parenthesis — Insertion of a clarifying word or phrase within a sentence, set off by commas, dashes, or parentheses

    1. I have three sisters. The eldest one has a wart on her nose. She looks like Wanda the Witch.
    2. Recast: My eldest sister — the one with a wart on her nose — looks like Wanda the Witch.
    3. Ethelred II was king of England from 978 to 1013 and 1014 to 1016. He was called Ethelred the Unready.
    4. Recast:

    Appositive — A parenthetical element (see above) that defines or renames (is in apposition to) an adjacent element.

    1. His eyes were strange to behold. One was deep brown, the other was cobalt blue.
    2. Recast: His unmatched eyes — one deep brown, one cobalt blue — were strange to behold.
    3. Judith was the company president’s administrative assistant. She was feared throughout the organization.
    4. Recast:
    A Giant Panda in the Washington Zoo, 2004

    A Giant Panda in the Washington Zoo, 2004

    Alliteration — Repetition of the same beginning letter or sound for words in a series or in close proximity

    1. Paul turned white when panda bears touched him with their feet.
    2. Recast: Paul paled when pandas put their paws on his person.
    3. There were small waves in the river, which wound through hilly farmland.
    4. Recast:

    Assonance — Repetition of a vowel sound or similar vowel sounds

    1. Bart continued to drive west, unwilling to stay in one place.
    2. Recast: Bart kept heading west, not yet ready to settle.
    3. The flames grew higher and seemed to grin.
    4. Recast:
    Winning entry, Hairdressing Fashion Exhibition, London, 1935, by Louis Calvete

    Winning entry, Hairdressing Fashion Exhibition, London, 1935, by Louis Calvete

    Anaphora — Beginning successive clauses or phrases with the same word or group of words

    1. If only I’d gone to live in Parma when I had the opportunity. I could have traveled Europe and had adventures I’ve merely dreamed of.
    2. Recast: If only I’d gone to live in Parma. If only I’d seized the chance. If only I’d traveled Europe. If only I’d had the adventures I’ve yearned for.
    3. My grandmother was a famous movie star. She was absolutely stunning, even with the marcel waves that were trendy for the time. Accordingly, she was completely self-absorbed, with little time or inclination to be bothered with the needs of her husband and children.
    4. Recast:

    Epistrophe — Ending successive clauses with the same word or phrase

    1. They teased me, but I held my ground. When they mocked me, I didn’t even blink. Even their threats didn’t shake my resolve.
    2. Recast: They teased me, but I held my ground. When they mocked me, I held my ground. Even when they threatened me, I held my ground.
    3. They seeded the clouds, but no rain came down. The Methodists prayed, the Muslims prayed, the congregation at St. Mary Magdalene prayed; and still there was no rain.
    4. Recast:

    Apostrophe — Addressing a personified abstraction (see personification, below) or inanimate object

    1. I asked for courage to keep me steady.
    2. Recast: Courage, don’t fail me now!
    3. I wish the rain would stop now and come back some other day.
    4. Recast:
    A Sunset View of Hurricane Isidore's Rain Bands, NOAA, 2002

    A Sunset View of Hurricane Isidore's Rain Bands, NOAA, 2002

    Cacophony — Harsh-sounding passages in poetry or prose; note that harshness comes from hard consonant sounds (K, T, and CH, for example) as well as word meanings

    1. The wind was wild in the trees, blowing away all the leaves.
    2. Recast: Fierce and cruel, storm winds wracked the trees, snapping brittle leaves from their branches and flinging them across the angry sky.
    3. Weary but unable to sleep, the bereaved mother mourned alone in the night.
    4. Recast:
    Benito Mussolini, Italian Prime Minister, 1922-1943

    Benito Mussolini, Italian Prime Minister, 1922-1943

    Consonance — The repetition of consonant sounds, especially the final consonants of accented syllables, often within a short passage of verse

    1. Hester wasn’t very tall, but she was perky and fashionably dressed.
    2. Recast: Hester was short, pert, and smartly dressed.
    3. Mussolini was a cruel dictator.
    4. Recast:

    Euphony — The opposite of cacophony — pleasant-sounding, perhaps mellifluous; note that pleasing sounds come from soft consonants (such as L, R, and V) as well as word meanings

    1. The ballerina was graceful.
    2. Recast: The ballerina’s fluid movements recalled the natural grace of a lovely, lazy river.
    3. Sunday nights on the porch are my favorite times.
    4. Recast:

    Hyperbole — Exaggeration beyond reason (“Yo’ mama” jokes are hyperbolic: “Yo’ mama so fat she got her own ZIP code.”)

    1. There were hundreds of people at Ebenezer’s funeral.
    2. Recast: I think the entire population of Pennsylvania and a few surrounding states came to Ebenezer’s funeral.
    3. My Grandma Hazel has never been more than five feet tall, but she has shrunk a few inches in her old age.
    4. Recast:
    A Dissipating Thunderstorm over Kent (U.K.), 2008

    A Dissipating Thunderstorm over Kent (U.K.), 2008

    Internal rhyme — The presence of rhyming words in a single line (usually, of verse)

    1. A storm was coming, and the sky was heavy with dark clouds.
    2. Recast: The golden day turned gray and cold; the lazy clouds grew bold and threatening.
    3. Peter was angry — I could tell by the coldness of his eyes and the flush in his cheeks.
    4. Recast:

    Onomatopoeia: The quality (of a word) of sounding like what is described: the buzzing of bees, the bark of a dog; a hacking cough; hiss; murmur, thrum

    1. I didn’t need an alarm clock; the noisy birds awoke me every morning.
    2. Recast: The chirping and twittering of lively birds woke me as reliably as my jingling alarm clock.
    3. I was weary of the constant construction noise as a building went up next door.
    4. Recast:
    Spotted Python — Photo by Stewart Macdonald

    Spotted Python — Photo by Stewart Macdonald

    Sibilance — Repetition of the sound of the letter S (sometimes also the combination SH); a form of alliteration

    1. Snakes have an eerie way of making their presence known.
    2. Recast: Snakes slither into sight, hissing in their sinuous assault.
    3. My mother sang the baby to sleep.
    4. Recast:

    Simile — An explicit comparison between two things, using the word like or as

    1. When David’s little boy was abducted, David was angry and restless.
    2. Recast: When David’s little boy was abducted, David roamed the house like a hungry tiger with no prey to hunt down.
    3. My sister swished down the stairs in her stunning ball gown, looking regal.
    4. Recast:

    Metaphor — Representation of an object or idea through juxtaposition of very different things with a similar characteristic, such as describing a courageous person as having a “heart of a lion”; an implied comparison of two unlike things

    1. I was very happy.
    2. Recast: I was on top of the world.
    3. June was a rainy month.
    4. Recast:
    Cottonwood in Autumn — Photo by Mike Pedroncelli

    Cottonwood in Autumn — Photo by Mike Pedroncelli

    Personification/
    prosopopoeia/
    anthropomorphism/
    pathetic fallacy:
    Attributing or applying human qualities to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena

    1. The evening breeze rustled the cottonwood trees, making a pleasing, relaxing sound.
    2. Recast: The cottonwood, leaves rustling in the evening breeze, sang a lullaby.
    3. Maple trees seem maternal and nurturing to me.
    4. Recast:

    Also …

    Allegory — A sustained metaphor, carried through sentences, paragraphs, even entire works. An extended metaphor in which a story is told to illustrate an important attribute of the subject. The books Pilgrim’s Progress and The Faerie Queen are allegories.

    You don’t need to provide examples of allegories, but please keep this concept in mind as we begin writing poems later in this section.

    Next: Great poems

     

    Poetic Devices

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Lesson 16
    Chapter 6: Figuratively Speaking

     Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1.

    The Plays of William Shakespeare, by Sir John Gilbert, 1849
    The Plays of William Shakespeare, by Sir John Gilbert, 1849

     

    Figures of speech are tools of poetry. Please do not even think about memorizing this list. The most important concepts are those in bold type.

    Figures of Speech (Rhetorical Devices)

    Figures of speech are linguistic tools that turn plain writing into art. They are words or phrases used in nonliteral, unexpected ways — for any of a hundred reasons, including

    A young Robert Frost (c. 1910)

    A young Robert Frost (c. 1910)

    * emphasis
    * elaboration
    * dramatic effect
    * tone (resonance, smoothness, softness, roughness…)
    * clarity
    * deliberate ambiguity
    * shading
    * freshness
    * humor

     

    Figures of speech are sometimes classified as schemes and tropes. There is, as you can see, a good deal of overlap between schemes and tropes.

    Schemes

    Figures of speech involving the arrangement (balance, order, repetition, or omission) of words or sounds

    Balance

    Parallelism-Repetitive use of a grammatical element (in the example below, repetition of gerund phrases)

    Standing on the corner, watching all the world go by;
    Standing on the corner, giving all the girls the eye. (1)

    Antithesis-Juxtaposition of opposing or contrasting ideas

    When they met, Alice was pure uptown; Jake was down on his luck.

    Word Order

    Anastrophe-Departure from usual word order

    [Death] dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell —John Donne (1572-1631), Holy Sonnet 10 (“Death, be not proud”)

    Anne Lamott (www.metroactive.com)

    Anne Lamott (www.metroactive.com)

    Parenthesis — A clarifying word or phrase within a sentence, set off by commas, dashes, or parentheses

    My friend, the writer I was so jealous of, would call and say, like some Southern belle, “I just don’t know why God is giving me so much money this year.” Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird (2)

    Four of the church’s elders — all women — …were having a prayer meeting. — Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

    Appositive — A parenthetical element that defines or renames (is in apposition to) an adjacent element (In the example below, the “something” that “glittered in her eyes” was “tears or old memories.”)

    Something glittered in her eyes — tears or old memories…. — Nora Roberts, Genuine Lies

    Omission

    Ellipsis — Omission of words, usually indicated by … (At the end of a sentence, the period is added, as in the examples below.)

    If she knew he was still dealing with Delrickio…. Well, he didn’t have to worry there. — Nora Roberts, Genuine Lies

    Well, you know what they say: “When in Rome….”

    Repetition

    Alliteration — Repetition of the same beginning letter or sound for words in a series or in close proximity

    Was he not unmistakably a little man? A creature of the petty rake-off, pocketed with a petty joke in private and denied with the stainless platitudes in his public utterances.” — C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

    Little Lea, the childhood home of C. S. Lewis, in East Belfast

    Little Lea, the childhood home of C. S. Lewis, in East Belfast

    Assonance — Repetition of a vowel sound or similar vowel sounds

    Those images that yet
    Fresh images beget,
    That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea. — W. B. Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium” (The poem opens with the words, “That is no country for old men,” from which American author Cormac McCarthy drew the title of his 2005 novel. The film adaptation 2007 film adaptation earned four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. 

    Anaphora — Beginning successive clauses or phrases with the same word or group of words

    I am neither Christian nor Jew, neither Zoroastrian nor Muslim,
    I am not from east or west, not from land or sea,
    not from the shafts of nature nor from the spheres of the firmament,
    not of the earth, not of water, not of air, not of fire. — Rumi

    Epistrophe — The same word or phrase used to end consecutive clauses. (The following example illustrates both anaphora [“They compassed me about”] and epistrophe.)

    And all nations compassed me about: but in the name of the Lord will I destroy them.
    They compassed me about; yea, they compassed me about: but in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.
    They compassed me about like bees; they are quenched as the fire of thorns: for in the name of the Lord I will destroy them. —
    Psalm 118:10-12

    ______________

    * aposiopesis: A break or pause in speech for dramatic effect

    Paul grabbed hold of Haffner’s shirt, tearing seams. “If you had anything to do with Eve’s murder — ”
    — Nora Roberts, Genuine Lies

    * apostrophe: Addressing a personified abstraction or inanimate object

    0 Star (the fairest one in sight),
    We grant your loftiness the right
    To some obscurity of cloud —
    It will not do to say of night,
    Since dark is what brings out your light. —
    Robert Frost, “Take Something Like a Star”

    * cacophony: Harsh-sounding passages in poetry or prose

    ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
    All mimsy were the borogoves,
    And the mome raths outgrabe. — Lewis Carroll, “Jabberwocky

    * consonance: The repetition of consonant sounds, especially the final consonants of accented syllables, often within a short passage of verse

    An Arizona Arbor in Summer

    An Arizona Arbor in Summer

    This is why I live here,
    this immaculate occasion once
    a day. Desert turns to fairyland,
    early-morning light turns drab
    dead gray to glory, wind stirs
    sunlit leaves like thirty kinds of
    lettuce, green and gold, green
    and gold, limb motion whispers;
    creosote and squat mesquite
    quiver in devotion —
    sweet-smelling, sunlight-drenched, still
    cool and fresh and equal to the
    coming heat. —
    Mary Campbell, “An Arizona Arbor in Summer”

    * enjambment: A breaking of a syntactic unit (a phrase, clause, or sentence) by the end of a line or between two verses.

    I wonder — How can people find
    the world such a contaminated
    kind of place when sunlight
    reaches into every pore of
    being — sanctifying, desiccating foul
    detritus of anxiety and indolence? — Mary Campbell, “An Arizona Arbor in Summer”

    * euphony: The opposite of cacophony — pleasant sounding, perhaps mellifluous

    Lord Byron's House in Southwell, Nottinghamshire

    Lord Byron's house in Southwell, Nottinghamshire

    One shade the more, one ray the less,
    Had half impair’d the nameless grace
    Which waves in every raven tress
    Or softly lightens o’er her face,
    Where thoughts serenely sweet express
    How pure, how dear their dwelling-place. — Lord Byron, “She Walks in Beauty, Like the Night”

    * homographs: Words that are identical in spelling but different in origin and meaning

    Claire ripped the ruffle off her petticoat and wound it around the delirious soldier’s wound.

    * homonyms: Words that are identical with each other in pronunciation and spelling, but differing in origin and meaning.

    key: “metal piece that works a lock,” from O.E. cæg
    key: “low island,” 1697, from Sp. cayo “shoal, reef” (3 )

    * homophones: Words that are identical with each other in pronunciation but differing in origin and meaning (led and lead, for example)

    * hyperbole: Exaggeration beyond reason (“Yo’ mamma” jokes are hyperbolic: “Yo’ mamma so fat she got her own ZIP code.”)

    * isocolon: Juxtaposition of parallel structures of the same length in adjacent clauses: “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”

    * internal rhyme: The presence of rhyming words in a single line of verse

    …where
    children, hyacinths, and roses, cucumbers, and peppers
    grow, and snowy linens hung to dry are blowing in the
    breeze. Inside, bread rises in the oven, herbs depend from
    oaken beams, and last night’s chicken in its steaming broth
    becomes this evening’s stew,
    tomorrow’s casserole. — Mary Campbell, “On This Side”

    Yeast bread rising before baking

    Yeast bread rising before baking

    * non sequitur: A statement that marks an abrupt, and often puzzling, change of subject

    * onomatopoeia: The quality (of a word) of sounding like what is described: the buzzing of bees, the bark of a dog; a hacking cough; hiss; murmur, thrum

    * pun: Use of a word or phrase in two different senses at the same time

    * sibilance: Alliteration in which the letter or sound of S is repeated

    * superlative: Unequaled; uttermost

    * spoonerism: Interchanging of (usually initial) letters of words with amusing effect (“Madam, may I sew you to your sheet?”)

    * tautology: Redundancy due to superfluous qualification; saying the same thing twice (“Sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do”; “I decided to go to New York because it was my decision to go to New York.”)

    * tmesis: Division of the elements of a compound or other multisyllabic word (Example: “Hoo-freaking-ray”)

    Omission

    Ellipsis — Omission of words, usually indicated by … (At the end of a sentence, the period is added, as in the examples below.)

    If she knew he was still dealing with Delrickio…. Well, he didn’t have to worry there. —Nora Roberts, Genuine Lies

    Well, you know what they say: “When in Rome….”

    Tropes

    In linguistics, trope is a rhetorical figure of speech that consists of a play on words — that is, using a word in a way other than what is considered its literal or expected form. The other major category of figures of speech is the scheme (see above), which involves changing the pattern of words in a sentence.

    Trope comes from a Greek word meaning “a turn, a change.” We can imagine a trope as a way of turning a word away from its normal meaning, or turning it into something else.

    Types of Tropes

    Metonymy — Using a word associated with an object or idea for the object or idea itself (e.g., referring to actions of the U.S. president as “actions of the White House”)

    Irony — A word are phrase used in a way that is opposite to its standard meaning, such as describing poverty as “good times”

    Simile — An explicit comparison between two things using the word like or as (“When she was angry, she was as fierce as a tiger,” and “When she was angry, she was like a tiger” are examples of simile; “When she was angry, she was a tiger” exemplifies a metaphor.)

    Mom was (metaphorically) a tiger

    Mom was (metaphorically) a tiger

    Metaphor — Representation of an object or idea — often intangible —using a tangible, dissimilar substitute (“My mother had a cocker spaniel’s eyes and a lion’s heart.”)

    Synecdoche — Related to metonymy and metaphor, creates a play on words by referring to something with a related concept: for example, referring to the whole with the name of a part, such as “hired hands” for workers; a part with the name of the whole, such as “the law” for police officers; the general with the specific, such as “bread” for food; the specific with the general, such as “cat” for a lion; or an object with the material it is made from, such as “bricks and mortar” for a building

    Allegory — A sustained metaphor, carried through entire stories, sometimes even long works of literature, such as The Faerie Queen. An extended metaphor in which a story is told to illustrate an important attribute of the subject. Aesop’s Fables are usually short allegories.

    ______________

    * allusion: An indirect reference to a quotation, event, or work of literature. “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more” is a common allusion to Judy Garland’s famous line in the (1939) film version of The Wizard of Oz

    Judy Garland, as Dorothy, in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz

    Judy Garland, as Dorothy, in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz

    * anthimeria: The substitution of one part of speech for another, often turning a noun into a verb

    * anthropomorphism: A word or phrase that ascribes human characteristics to something that is not human, such as an animal or a god (see zoomorphism)

    * aphorism: A tersely phrased statement of a truth or opinion, an adage

    * aporia: Deliberating with oneself, often with the use of rhetorical questions

    To be, or not to be: that is the question:
    Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
    And by opposing end them? William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1

    * archaism: Use of an obsolete, archaic, word (a word used in olden language)

    * catachresis: A mixed metaphor (sometimes used on purpose and sometimes by mistake)

    * circumlocution: “Talking around” a topic by substituting or adding words, as in euphemism or periphrasis

    * commiseration: Evoking pity in the audience.

    * double negative: Redundant repetition of negative words (“I don’t have no money.”)

    * dysphemism: Substitution of a harsher, more offensive, or more disagreeable term for another. Opposite of euphemism.

    * erotema: Synonym for rhetorical question

    * euphemism: Substitution of a less offensive or more agreeable term for another (e.g., downsizing for layoffs)

    * hypophora: Answering one’s own rhetorical question at length

    * innuendo: Sly suggestion; hidden meaning

    * invocation: An apostrophe to a god or muse

    * malapropism: Confusing a word with another word that sounds similar (“Put your hand in the hand of the man who spilled the water.”)

    * meiosis: Use of understatement, usually to diminish the importance of something

    * metonymy: Substitution of a related word or phrase for a larger idea.

    Many standard items of vocabulary are metonymic. A red-letter day is important, like the feast days marked in red on church calendars. Red tide, the marine disease that kills fish, takes its name from the color of one-celled, plantlike animals in the water…. On the level of slang, a redneck is a stereotypical member of the white rural working class in the Southern U.S., originally a reference to necks sunburned from working in the fields. — Connie C. Eble, “Metonymy,” The Oxford Companion to the English Language, 1992

    * neologism: The use of a word or term that has recently been created, or has been in use for a short time. Opposite of archaism.

    * oxymoron: Contradiction in terms; using two terms together that normally contradict each other (e.g., “sour sweetness”)

    * parable: An extended metaphor told as an anecdote to illustrate or teach a moral lesson

    * paradox: Use of apparently contradictory ideas to point out some underlying truth

    * parallel irony: An ironic juxtaposition of sentences or situations (informal)

    * paralipsis: Drawing attention to something while pretending to pass it over

    * pathetic fallacy: Ascribing human actions or feelings to nonhuman objects

    * periphrasis: Using several words instead of few

    * personification/prosopopoeia/anthropomorphism: Attributing or applying human qualities to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena (see pathetic fallacy)

    * proverb: A succinct or pithy expression of what is commonly observed and believed to be true

    * rhetorical question: A query that doesn’t require an answer

    * superlative: Uttermost: the ugliest, the most precious, etc.

    * synecdoche: A form of metonymy in which a part stands for the whole (Example: “Keep your nose out of my business.”)

    * truism: A self-evident statement

    * zoomorphism: Animal characteristics ascribed to humans or gods

    _________

    1 From the song “Standing on the Corner,” by Frank Loesser 1956), composed for the Broadway Musical The Most Happy Fella. Recorded by the pop quartet the Four Lads, it reached number 3 on the charts that year.

    2 The parenthetical phrase “the writer I was so jealous of” is also an appositive; it is in apposition to “my friend.”

    3 Online Etymology Dictionary, http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=key, accessed May 20, 2008

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