Special Techniques: Poetry
Episode #7 of the course Studying English literature: Excel in the study of novels, poems, plays, and more by K.C. Finn
In this session, we expand on stylistics to look at specific tools that we usually find in poetic works, and how writers use them to make great literature. Once again we’ll list a few key techniques, but it’s also important to remember that you might find these poetic techniques in unexpected places too, such as within political speeches, advertising, and full-length novels. Because they usually play with sound and rhythm, poetic devices tend to stick in our minds more and are very useful for getting a point across memorably.
Five Essential Poetic Techniques
Alliteration: This is a sound technique that you’ll pick up really easily if you read the poem out loud. Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds, most obvious in things like tongue-twisters. For example: “She sells seashells by the seashore” has alliteration on the S throughout.
Rhyme: The simplest form of this technique is the couplet, where the ends of pairs of lines have the same rhyming sound. But as you continue to explore this area, you may discover different rhyming patterns as well as half-rhymes, and rhymes that take place in the middle of a line rather than the end, known formally as internal rhyme.
Repetition: Similar to the concept of patterning which we explored in Lesson 6, repetition focuses on a specific word or phrase that appears again and again. During analysis, it’s important to consider where and when this is done for the most powerful effect on the reader.
Assonance: Where alliteration focuses on repeated consonants, assonance is a sound technique that repeats vowel sounds. These can be trickier to spot, and reading aloud will be your best bet to catch them. For example: “the mellow wedding bells” has a repeating ‘e’ that sounds like the toll of a bell.
Onomatopoeia: Crash, Bang, and Pop are all examples of this fun technique, which uses words that actually sound like the thing they represent. Intended to give dimension to the sound and atmosphere of a poem, onomatopoeia also comes up in the world of stories and novels a lot, especially for children’s works.
We’ve spent a lot of time examining new texts over the last few sessions in order to hone our skills, but poetry can be tricky, so if you have a favorite verse from childhood or early school days that you can call to mind for this exercise, then that would be a great segue into the poetic analysis. Nursery rhymes and fairy tales also employ poetic techniques, and the simplicity of their grammatical structure makes them easier to spot.
This time when you make your analysis and spot the techniques being used, really try to focus on the effect that they have. What words, ideas, or characters are being highlighted by the technique? Do the sounds give other connotations that make you think of particular themes or atmospheres? How do the different techniques work together to make some sections of the poem especially memorable?
Don’t fret if you’re finding it hard to keep all of these techniques straight in your mind, for it takes practice to know and recognize them all during analytical work with literature. Later in the course, we’ll see best how to organize and recognize everything when you’re looking at any kind of text, so for now choose just one or two techniques to keep in mind at a time when you examine something new.
In the next lesson, we’ll be taking our knowledge into another realm of literature, the world of theatre and the playscript. Once again, we’ll learn specific literary techniques that writers use to enhance this form, as well as build on our existing knowledge of story techniques such as dialogue, tone, point of view, and atmosphere.
If poetry is a feature you’ll definitely be facing a lot during your studies of English Literature, then it’s best to get to grips with all the most essential terms. Your Dictionary has compiled a fantastic post with twenty of the best of them.
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