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What Are English Poetic Techniques?

English poetic techniques are the “tools and methods poets use to convey emotions, enhance meaning, and create specific effects in their poetry.” English poetic techniques make up a key part of the marking guides for high school English and Literature across Australia. They’re found within the aesthetic features and stylistic devices section of the QCAA EAMGs, and they’re also seen in the marking guides for HSC, WACE and other English curriculums.

Knowing your English poetic techniques is super important because it allows you to analyse the intention of the author and evaluate how they position the reader to think and feel through their work. Below, we’ve complied the ultimate guide to English poetic techniques with examples from famous poems and example analyses you can use for your English analytical essays.

Full List of English Poetic Techniques & Examples

Here are some of the main English poetic techniques you need to know for high school English and Literature in Australia. Download the full English Poetic Techniques PDF for free. 💕

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🖋️ English Poetic Techniques

Alliteration

Definition: An English poetic technique in which the initial (first) consonant sounds of successive words within a sentence or phrase are repeated for artistic effect. This repetition creates a musical quality, rhythm, and emphasis, enhancing the overall impact and beauty of the language used.

Example: “Sally sells seashells by the seashore.”

Analysis: This is a popular and perfect example of alliteration. The repeated “s” sound in “Sally sells seashells by the seashore” adds a rhythmic and melodic quality to the sentence which makes it more memorable and more enjoyable to say out loud. This draws readers’ attention to the sentence and the characters and actions within it.

Allusion

Definition: An English poetic technique that incorporates a specific idea, concept, character, or event from another source. Allusions are used to enhance the meaning or message of the text by connecting it to something familiar to the audience. They can add depth, complexity, and layers of interpretation.

Example:

“Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

Analysis: In this excerpt from Robert Frost’s poem Out, Out–, the title is an allusion to Lady Macbeth’s (from Shakespeare’s Macbeth) lament upon hearing of her husband’s death: “Out, out, brief candle!” The allusion serves to highlight the fleeting nature of life and the suddenness of the boy’s death in Frost’s poem. It adds depth to the poem’s exploration of mortality and the indifference of the natural world to human suffering.

Assonance

Definition: An aesthetic feature in which vowel sounds of neighbouring words within a sentence or phrase are repeated. It is used to create a melodic and rhythmic effect, adding musicality and a sense of harmony to the text.

Example: “I must confess that in my quest, I felt depressed and restless.”

Analysis: In this famous example, the repetition of the “e” and “i” vowel sounds in successive words demonstrates the use of assonance and contributes to the smooth flow of the sentence, creating a musical and ‘flowing’ effect. Like in this example, poets often use assonance to achieve a rhythmic auditory effect that engages readers’ senses.

Calligram

Definition: A calligram is a visual English poetic technique in which the arrangement of the words and letters creates a visual representation of the poem’s subject. In a calligram, the words are not only important for their meaning but also for their visual layout on the page.

Example:

“A broken ALTAR, Lord, thy servant rears,
Made of a heart, and cemented with teares:
Whose parts are as thy hand did frame;
No workmans tool hath touch’d the same.
A HEART alone
Is such a stone,
As nothing but
Thy pow’r doth cut.
Wherefore each part
Of my hard heart
Meets in this frame,
To praise thy name.
That if I chance to hold my peace,
These stones to praise thee may not cease.
Oh, let thy blessed SACRIFICE be mine,
And sanctifie this ALTAR to be thine.”

Analysis: In this calligram, the words are arranged in the shape of an altar, emphasizing the speaker’s desire to dedicate their heart and life to God. The visual representation adds depth to the poem’s meaning and enhances the reader’s engagement with the text.

Conceit

Definition: A conceit is a metaphor that compares two seemingly dissimilar things in a surprising or clever way. Unlike a regular metaphor, which might make a straightforward comparison between two things, a conceit often extends the metaphor in elaborate and unexpected ways.

Example:

“He fumbles at your Soul
As Players at the Keys
Before they drop full Music on—
He stuns you by degrees—”

Analysis: In this example from Emily Dickinson’s He fumbles at your Soul, Dickinson uses the metaphor of a musician (“Players at the Keys”) to describe someone trying to understand the depths of a person’s soul. The comparison between exploring a soul and playing a musical instrument creates a concise yet powerful conceit, highlighting the gradual and delicate nature of understanding someone’s innermost self.

Confessional Poetry

Definition: Confessional poetry is a genre of poetry in which poets draw on deeply personal and often painful experiences from their own lives, exploring themes such as mental illness, family relationships, sexuality, and personal trauma. Confessional poetry is noted for its raw emotional honesty and autobiographical content, blurring the lines between the content of the poetry and the poet’s real life.

Example: One of the most famous examples of confessional poetry is Sylvia Plath’s collection of poems, Ariel. Plath’s work in Ariel is deeply confessional, delving into her personal struggles, mental health issues, and complex emotions. Lady Lazarus, a poem within Ariel, highlights Plath’s personal struggles with depression and suicide.

Analysis: Plath’s poem Lady Lazarus presents a stark and unapologetic exploration of her own mortality and suffering, making it a quintessential example of confessional poetry. The themes it explores are deeply personal and shed a light into her own inner thoughts and struggles with mental health.

Connotation

Definition: Connotation refers to the array of emotions, associations, and secondary meanings that a word carries beyond its literal definition. Connotations can vary based on cultural, regional, and personal contexts. Writers and poets often use connotations to add depth and richness to their work, invoking specific feelings or mental images in the reader’s mind.

Example:

“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.”

Analysis: In this excerpt from Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, the connotations of words like “lovely,” “dark,” and “deep” contribute to the overall mood of the poem. “Lovely” suggests beauty and enchantment, while “dark” and “deep” carry connotations of mystery and introspection. These words, along with the imagery of snowy woods, create a sense of quiet and contemplation.

Couplet

Definition: A couplet is a pair of consecutive lines in a poem that usually rhyme and share the same meter. Couplets can also vary in meter, meaning the number of syllables and the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in each line differs. They are often employed for their concise and impactful nature to make a profound and insightful statement or provide closure to a poem.

Example:

“So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”

Analysis: The sense of rhyme created in the words “see” and “thee” in this famous couplet from Shakespeare’s Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? add musicality and a rhythmic flow to the lines. As the final two lines of the poem, the couplet creates a sense of closure while encapsulating the overall theme of eternal beauty for a lasting emotional impact.

Dramatic Monologue

Definition: A dramatic monologue is a type of poem in which a character, often the speaker, addresses a silent audience or an implied listener. In this form, the character reveals his or her thoughts, feelings, and motivations which provides the reader with a deep insight into the character’s mind.

Example: T.S. Eliot’s poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is one of the most famous dramatic monologues in poetry. In the poem, the speaker (Prufrock) addresses an implied listener, revealing his innermost thoughts and feelings of loneliness, isolation, and inadequacy.

Analysis: The extended monologue allows Eliot to provide a deep exploration of the character’s innermost feelings of inadequacy and social anxiety. The poem positions readers to sympathise with Prufrock (who bears a striking resemblance to Eliot himself) as they gain a deep insight into the character’s mind.

Emotive Language

Definition: Emotive language or loaded language is the use of words and phrases that evoke strong emotional feelings, both positive and negative, in the reader or listener. In poetry, emotive language is used to create a sense of empathy and position readers to feel a certain way towards a character or the overall topic of a poem.

Example:

“You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”

Analysis: This excerpt from Maya Angelou’s poem Still I Rise uses emotive language to convey her resilience in the face of persecution. Words like “bitter,” “twisted,” and “dirt” evoke negative emotions, while the phrase “I’ll rise” imbues the poem with hope and determination. This emotive language emphasises Angelou’s power to overcome adversity and rise above racial oppression.

Enjambment

Definition: An English poetic technique in where a sentence or phrase runs over from one poetic line to the next without a pause or a grammatical break. In other words, the meaning of a sentence or phrase is not confined to a single line but flows into the next line without a termination.

Example:

“April is the cruellest month,
breeding Lilacs out of the dead land,
mixing Memory and desire,
stirring Dull roots with spring rain.”

Analysis: In these lines from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, the thoughts and ideas spill over from one line to the next without a pause, creating a continuous flow of meaning. The enjambment here helps maintain the poem’s rhythm and allows Eliot to explore complex ideas without interruption. This creates a unique sense of flow and adds to the poetic description of April as the “cruellest month.”

Epigraph

Definition: A short quotation or saying at the beginning of a book, chapter, or poem. The purpose of an epigraph can vary. It might set the tone for the text that follows, provide context, offer insight, or suggest a theme that’s continued throughout the text. Authors often use epigraphs to establish a connection between their work and another piece of literature through allusions.

Example:

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.”

Analysis: This epigraph, from John Keats’ poem Endymion, sets the tone for the poem, emphasizing the enduring nature of beauty and its ability to bring joy and tranquility. Keats explores these themes throughout the poem, celebrating the eternal nature of beauty and its profound impact on the human soul. The epigraph provides a philosophical foundation for the poem’s exploration of beauty and its timeless qualities.

First-Person Viewpoint

Definition: In first-person narration, the poem is written from the perspective of a character within the poem itself. The narrator uses first-person pronouns like “I” or “we” to convey their personal experiences and observations.

Example: As I reached the bridge, I slowed my pace so that I could smell the familiar scent of the dandelions.

Analysis: This point of view allows for a direct connection between the narrator and the reader, providing insights into the narrator’s thoughts, feelings, and inner conflicts. Readers can gain a deep understanding of the narrator’s personality, motivations, and perspective on the events that unfold in the story.

Free Verse

Definition: An English poetic technique that allows a poet to deviate from specific or established rhyme schemes or metrical patterns. Unlike traditional poetry forms, which adhere to strict rules of rhyme, rhythm, and structure (such as sonnets or haikus), free verse allows poets to experiment with the arrangement of words, phrases, and lines without the constraints of regular meter or rhyme.

Example:

“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.”

Analysis: This excerpt from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself is a perfect example of free verse due to the absence of any obvious rhyme scheme or meter. Instead, the poem flows freely, reflecting the natural cadences of speech.

Hyperbole

Definition: An exaggeration used for emphasis or to create a dramatic effect. This technique is somewhat uncommon in poetry, though it can add humour or depth to the poem if included. Hyperbole is usually found in speeches, and may be introduced unexpectedly to drive the speaker’s point home for listeners.

Example: “I’ve told you a million times not to do that!”

Analysis: Hyperbole is used to drive a point home or position viewers to perceive that whatever the speaker is saying is of great importance. In poetry, it may be used to introduce an element of humour or unexpectedly shift the tone of a poem.

Imagery

Definition: Involves the use of vivid and descriptive language to create mental images or sensory experiences in readers’ minds. Poets invoke imagery to evoke emotions, appeal to readers’ senses, and provide a deeper understanding of the setting, characters, and themes in a literary work.

Example:

“Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.”

Analysis: William Wordsworth’s, in his famous poem Daffodils, incorporates imagery to vividly describe a field of daffodils. The comparison of the daffodils to stars on the Milky Way creates a visual image of the vastness of the field. Phrases like “tossing their heads in sprightly dance” not only provide a visual image but also evoke a sense of movement, making the scene come alive in the reader’s mind.

Metaphor

Definition: An English poetic technique that involves drawing a comparison between two dissimilar things or concepts without using “like” or “as.” It is a figure of speech that provides a deeper and symbolic meaning by suggesting a resemblance between the two elements. Metaphors enrich the language, add layers of meaning, and invite readers to explore connections beyond the literal interpretation.

Example:

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.”

Analysis: From Shakespeare’s classic As You Like It, a metaphorical comparison is made between “the world” and “a stage” and also between “men and women” and “players.” By using metaphors to equate life to a stage and the men and women within it to players, Shakespeare suggests that life is akin to a theatrical performance where people play different roles throughout their existence.

Meter

Definition: Meter is an English poetic technique that refers to the rhythmic structure of a verse, determined by the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in each line. It is a fundamental element of traditional poetic forms and plays a crucial role in defining the poem’s overall rhythm and musicality.

Example:

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

Analysis: This line, from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, follows an iconic form of meter called iambic pentameter which consists of alternating between stressed and unstressed syllables. Each line in Sonnet 18 follows this same pattern, making it one of the most celebrated examples of iambic pentameter in the English language, and a perfect example of how a use of meter can add complexity and beauty to a poem.

Mood

Definition: The emotional atmosphere a poet creates for readers. It is the feeling or vibe that the readers get from the poem. The mood of a poem may be established through the poet’s careful selection and use of words, phrases, settings, and other poetic techniques.

Example:

“But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered ‘Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.’
Then the bird said ‘Nevermore.’”

Analysis: In this excerpt from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven, the repetition of “Nevermore” and the despondency of the speaker contribute to the poem’s dark and mournful mood, making it one of the most enduring examples of gothic and melancholic literature.

Onomatopoeia

Definition: An English poetic technique in which words are used that imitate or mimic the sounds they represent. It’s a word that sounds like what it represents. Writers use onomatopoeic words to create a vivid and sensory experience for the readers, allowing them to hear the sounds described in the text.

Example:

“Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells, Bells, bells, bells —”

Analysis: The word “tintinnabulation” from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Bells poem imitates the sound of bells ringing, using onomatopoeia to evoke the auditory experience of the ringing bells.

Pantoum

Definition: A form of poetry with a unique structure, originating from Malaysia. It consists of a series of quatrains (four-line stanzas) where the second and fourth lines of each stanza become the first and third lines of the next stanza. The last stanza of the poem repeats the first and third lines of the initial stanza.

Example:

“Our lives avoided tragedy
Simply by going on and on,
Without end and with little apparent meaning.
Oh, there were storms and small catastrophes.”

Analysis: These lines from Donald Justice’s Pantoum of the Great Depression, follow the pantoum structure, with each second and fourth line becoming the first and third line of the next stanza. This repetition creates a cyclical and rhythmic pattern, enhancing the impact of the poem’s theme about the cyclical nature of life and the enduring human spirit during difficult times.

Personification

Definition: An aesthetic feature in which human qualities, characteristics, or actions are attributed to non-human entities. Personification adds depth, vividness, and emotional resonance to descriptions, making the language more engaging and relatable.

Example: “The wind whispered through the trees.”

Analysis: In this quote, the author uses personification to give the wind the human attributes of “whispering” and “singing.” By ascribing these attributes to the wind, the writer personifies it as though it were a human and creates a vivid image of the setting and atmosphere.

Quatrain

Definition: A quatrain is a stanza or poem consisting of four lines. Quatrains are very common in poetry and can have various rhyme schemes. Some of the most common rhyme schemes for quatrains include AABB, ABAB, ABBA, ABCB, and even AAAA, where the letters represent the rhyme pattern of the lines.

Example:

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? (A)
Thou art more lovely and more temperate: (B)
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, (A)
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date: (B)”

Analysis: These lines, from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, uses the ABAB rhyme scheme, a common structure for quatrains. This particular quatrain is the opening stanza of one of his most beloved sonnets. Shakespeare’s use of quatrains allows him to express complex ideas about love and mortality within a structured and melodic form.

Refrain

Definition: A repeated line or phrase throughout a poem. It enables poets to create rhythm, emphasise an idea, or evoke certain emotions. The refrain typically appears at regular intervals throughout a poem, particularly at the ends of stanzas or verses. Its repetition can provide a sense of unity and reinforce the central theme or message of the piece.

Example: In The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe, the refrain is the word “Nevermore,” which is repeated at the end of each stanza and also at the end of the poem.

Analysis: This refrain, from The Raven, emphasises the sense of loss and despair experienced by the narrator, as the raven repeatedly responds with this word to the narrator’s questions. It adds a haunting and melancholic tone which highlights the narrator’s grief and despair.

Rhyme

Definition: Rhyme is the similarity of sounds between two words. In poetry, rhyme is a fundamental part of the structure and musicality of a poem. When words share a similar sound, usually at the end of the word, they are considered to rhyme. Similar to quatrain.

Example:

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? (A)
Thou art more lovely and more temperate: (B)
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, (A)
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date: (B)”

Analysis: These lines, from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, uses the ABAB rhyme scheme. Shakespeare’s use of rhyme, in this specific ABAB quatrain, allows him to express complex ideas about love and mortality within a structured and melodic form.

Semiotics / Symbolism

Definition: Semiotics in poetry involves the use of signs and symbols to convey meaning within poetic texts. Poets often employ semiotic elements to create layers of meaning, evoke emotions, and communicate complex ideas.

Example:

“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”

Analysis: This excerpt from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land incorporates several symbols such as “April,” “Lilacs,” and “spring rain” to represent themes of rebirth, memory, and desire. The imagery and symbolism in this poem are highly nuanced, and different readers take different meanings away depending on their social context.

Simile

Definition: An English poetic technique that makes a comparison between two different things using the words “like” or “as”. It is a figure of speech that highlights similarities between the two elements, creating vivid and imaginative comparisons.

Example:

“O my Luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly played in tune.”

Analysis: In this simile, from Robert Burns’ A Red, Red Rose, the speaker compares his love to a red rose, using the word “like” to indicate the comparison. The simile creates a vivid image of the speaker’s deep and passionate affection, emphasising the beauty and freshness of his love through the imagery of the red rose.

Tone

Definition: Refers to the overall vibe of the poem, achieved through the poet’s careful and considerate selection of words and other English poetic techniques. The tone gives readers an insight into the poet’s beliefs and perspective. The tone can be formal, informal, playful, serious, sarcastic, melancholic, optimistic, or a combination of various emotions.

Example:

“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul…”

Analysis: These lines from Hope is the thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson provides readers with a positive and uplifting tone. The tone here is optimistic, as the poet compares hope to a bird, emphasising its enduring and uplifting nature.

English Poetic Techniques Conclusion

English poetic techniques are crucial to understand and use for analysing poetry in your QCE, HSC, or WACE analytical essay tasks. We hope you found this English poetic techniques article valuable, and we encourage you to download the free PDF of the English Poetic Techniques.

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