How to Use Figurative Language in Poetry?

Figurative language uses descriptive words that put more emphasis on emotions. The focal point is on your senses—what you see, hear, smell, taste and touch. Instead of getting to the point, figurative language lets you beat around the bush a bit, allowing your reader to chase your meaning.

Which line do you think will land you a date?

“Hey, I think you’re cool, will you go on a date with me?”

or

“From the time my gaze crossed your hazel, almond eyes,

My senses were tantalized when you passed by me;

Filling the air with sensual rosy notes,

The moment I recovered—I knew I was smitten,

With your gold cascading hair.”

Poetry isometric infographic set with literature and poem symbols vector illustration

Poetry can make the mundane seem interesting, the ordinary feel extraordinary. (Photo Credit : Macrovector/Shutterstock)

Sure, you might be guilty of sounding ‘cheesy,’ but I’m sure that you made someone smile. That is the beauty of poetry. It can make the mundane seem interesting and the ordinary feel extraordinary.

Now, don’t get disheartened, as you don’t need to be a poet to learn how to write poetry. All you need are a few tools and you will become a DIY Robert Frost!


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Poetry and Music

Before learning the steps to become a poet, one must first understand that poetry is similar to music, and who doesn’t like music? Music also uses words, but it has a way of touching chords that words simply cannot reach. Poetry is much the same.

In fact, a poem that can be sung is called a ballad. The question is, what makes poetry… poetic? The first reason is the rhythm. To give it a try, sing ‘We Will Rock You’ by Queen. I’ll wait.

I’m sure your feet would have tapped along as you sang the song. Now sing it again, but without the rhythm of the song. And no tunes on the words…

A FEW MOMENT LATER

Didn’t the song sound boring? It feels like mere words without emotion. Similarly, poetry is also composed of strings of words encapsulated in a rhythm that make them impactful. If you want to know more about the technicality of poetry, such as forms, stanza, rhythm and types of poems, click here.

ROSES ARE RED MEME

Figurative Language

Instead of using literal language that conveys meaning directly and intentionally, you can choose to use figurative language, which conveys the same meaning indirectly. Figurative language uses descriptive words that emphasize emotions. The focal point is on your senses—what you see, hear, smell, taste and touch. Instead of getting to the point, it lets you beat around the bush a bit, allowing your reader to chase your meaning.

Summer,Beach,Vacation,Concept,,Asia,Woman,With,Hat,Relaxing,And

Let the reader conclude that you’re relaxed. (Photo Credit : Peera_stockfoto/Shutterstock)

For example, try describing your experience on the beach. In literal language, you might say, “I loved going to the beach today. It was relaxing.” In figurative language, you would use your five senses to describe your experiences on the beach. You would not say it was relaxing, as the reader will conclude that for you:

‘My eyes gazed upon the vast blue sea.

The ebb of the waves echoed the peace within my heart.

I felt the warm, grainy sand slip through my hand, just as my worries slipped through.

The salty breeze caressed my cheeks and along with it, the stress bid me adieu.’

Describing words: warm, grainy, salty

5 senses: sight—blue sea; sound—ebb of the waves; touch—grainy sand, breeze caressing my cheeks.

Clearly, the beach was relaxing, but writing like this lets the reader conclude that for you. And how do we learn this art? Fortunately, there is a cheat code!

Figures of Speech

Figures of speech are literary devices used by any literary figure (poet, author, dramatist) to enhance their writing. Some literary devices that are very easy to learn are simile, metaphor, alliteration and personification.

Simile

When you use ‘like’ or ‘as’ to compare two things, it’s called a simile. You will be surprised how often you likely use this tool in your daily language. For example:

‘They are fighting like cats and dogs.’

Instead of saying that they are fighting terribly, you make it figurative.

‘Usain Bolt is as fast as a cheetah.’

Now, this might not be factually correct, but it conveys the meaning that Usain Bolt is a very fast runner by comparing him to a cheetah—the fastest animal on Earth.

Rio,De,Janeiro,,Brazil,08.18.2016:,Usain,Bolt,Of,Jamaica,Wins

‘Usain Bolt is as fast as a cheetah.’ (Photo Credit : Salty View/Shutterstock)

Metaphor

A metaphor is very similar to a simile, but instead of using ‘like’ or ‘as’, it directly compares two things. For example:

‘Her son is the light of her life.’

‘Life is a race.’

‘Her business is her baby.’

The son is compared to a light giving the mother a reason to live. Life is being compared to a race, as everything is very competitive in today’s world. Lastly, business is compared to a baby because it requires the same amount of care and attention in order to grow. Basically, instead of using many words to explain a point, you compress the meaning into a metaphor that is accessible and easy to understand.

Weak person refusing to compete with other people from start, quitting life competition

‘Life is a race’ is a metaphor (Photo Credit : GoodStudio/Shutterstock)

Alliteration

Alliteration is the repetition of the same sound in a sentence. It gives rhythm to a line.

‘She sells sea shells on the sea shore.’

I had used this line above: ‘Beat around the bush a bit.’

Personification

When you give human attributes to inanimate objects, natural forms or ideas, it is called personification. You treat something that is not a person as though it is a ‘person.’

‘The salty breeze caressed my cheeks.’

The act of caressing is a human behavior, but here it is performed by nature (breeze).

‘The stress bid me adieu.’

A concept like stress is given the human attribute of saying goodbye.

Handsome,Man,In,Sport,Wear,With,Outstretched,Arms,Standing,On

‘The salty breeze caressed my cheeks’ is an example of personification. (Photo Credit : Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock)

Voila! Now you have the tools to create your own poem!

However, remember to use more descriptive words (adjectives) and engage your five senses in order to describe an experience in a more unique way. Last but not least, use figures of speech like simile, metaphor, alliteration and personification to convey meaning in unexpected forms.

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About the Author

Anupriya is an English and Social Studies teacher at Jamnabai Narsee School, Mumbai. Besides her interest in Literature and Social Sciences, she spends her time reading finance articles and binge watching historical drama series on Netflix. She aspires to be an author.

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