Deviant Login Shop  Join deviantART for FREE Take the Tour

:iconpoeticks: More from poeticks

More from deviantART


Submitted on
February 7, 2005
File Size
25.1 KB


2,984 (1 today)
13 (who?)

Chapter 4: Quality of imagery

4-1: Figure of Speech

We have already heard from deviantArt writers about the importance of "figure of speech" within imagery.
To make out a clearer picture of "imagery" from the writer's point of view, let us take take a closer look. You may find futilitarian's Terms and Techniques a useful guide along the way, and other online resources to complement what we are about to explore. We will not go over the whole gamut of writing techniques here for that is not the main purpose, but here, let us look at how a variety of figure of speech may be used in a single piece of poetry.

We will dissect T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song for J. Alfred Prufrock" solely from a figure-of-speech point of view. For those who have not read it, we prefer that you peruse it once through before continuing this section.

What we would like readers to note is a) how figures of speech are used in a poem, and b) how they help to strengthen the vivacity of each imagery. In short, this is an elaborate example to show readers and writers one of the major mechanisms working behind the imagery of poetry.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;

Here, we encounter what is called a simile. Simile is " a form of description by association, where it often uses "as" or "like". Here, "the evening is spread a patient" is associating the action of evening with that of a patient. By making this correlation, the imagery becomes that much more tangible and vivid.

Other similes we can find in this poem: "Streets that follow like a tedious argument" and "as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns".

But now if we look at "evening...spread a patient" or "lantern threw..." we can see that there is yet another figure of speech in play: what we  call "personification", or in technical terms anthropomorphism or prosopopeia. This technique "endow[s] non-humans (animals, nature, man-made objects) with human characteristics [or] emotions[ing] to convey the overall mood of the speaker and/or place being described."

A writer states "This opens up a wide range of demonstrative capability for a writer with something to say. If perhaps the writer feels powerfully against strip-mining they may write the voice of Gaia speaking as if the stripped quarries were wounds and gashes across her. If done well this approach will better convey the emotion of what the writer feels by giving it the appropriate mouth to speak it than say an essay on the subject."

We can see more personification in this poem with "the yellow fog that rubs its back...", "the yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle..." and so on. We can see personification elaborated from a sentence into a piece as seen in Bjork's lyrics for "Oceania"… or even elaborated in a full-length novel as seen in Natsume Soseki's "I am a Cat"…

We see yet another conspicuous figure of speech here.

Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep ... tired ... or it malingers,

Ellipsis (the three dots) are quite commonly used, yet it is quite rare to come across ellipsis skillfully used. In general, we see ellipsis as an "indicati[on] [of] an intentional omission, [commonly] used to indicate a pause in speech, or be used at the end of a sentence to indicate a trailing off into silence."

But apart from that, "ellipsis" as a rhetorical term, does not necessarily have three dots, but can rather be defined as "the omission of a word or words required by strict grammatical rules but not by sense" and occurs more often than one would imagine.

...To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool...

The missing words here would be "I am", as in "I am no doubt, an easy tool". Being based strictly on grammar,

My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,

would imply, "Wearing my morning coat, with my collar mounting firmly to the chin." And of course the questions:

And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?

And how should I begin to "do what?". The reader must interpret and decide what the missing word is here, what the authour is trying to imply, and this in turn, helps to add depth to the whole sequence.

Under the ellipsis, there is another figure of speech: aposiopesis, where "the speaker breaks off suddenly in the middle of speaking, giving the impression that he is unwilling or unable to continue." The closest to this we can see in Eliot's poem would be

To lead you to an overwhelming question ...

where the writer interrupts his speech by continuing

Oh, do not ask, 'What is it?'

or most conspicuously,

After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail
along the floor--
And this, and so much more?--
It is impossible to say just what I mean!

This technique is widely used in prose dialogue as well ("But, but I thought...",) and gives an overwhelming feeling beyond the expression of the speaker.

We go now to alliteration, which is defined "successive words (more strictly, stressed syllables) beginning with the same sound."

Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap, And seeing that it was a soft October night,

The above is an example of successive "s" sounds, to express the soft smooth stealthy atmosphere.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white
and black.

Here we can find an onslaught of a mixture of "w" and "b" sounds perhaps to express the rush and flow of the ocean with the "w" and crashing the waves with the "b" to bring out an effect with -not just the meaning but - the sound they produce.

Then there is the anaphora, which we can see to a great extent in this poem. As stated in futilitarian's collection, "[a]naphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the start of the lines of a poem."

And indeed there will be time is repeated as well as
And I have known the arms already, known them all-- along with
And would it have been worth it, after all,.

The use of the anaphora, if used skillfully can produce a very unique and convincing effect. Take the famous speech by Martin Luther King Jr. that starts with "I have a dream...".

A similar figure of speech is the anadiplosis where the word at the end of a sentence is repeated at the beginning of the next.

The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,

Then there is assonance, which is alliteration but with internal vowels. An example would be this passage:

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

Vowels can be used to great effectiveness as the long vowels here, apt to express the leisurely nonchanlance of the women in the room:

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

Another important figure of speech we should mention is the synecdoche where a part of something is meant to stand for the whole for example,

There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;

The "faces" imply the faces of the "people" you will meet. The face represents the whole, making this a synecdoche.


Talking of Michelangelo

Obviously, the women are not all talking solely of Michelangelo. The conversation of Michelangelo is just one topic among the whole of high-brow, intellecutual, or artistic but otherwise trivial conversations.

Very similar, and actually encompassing the synecdoche is metonymy, which substitutes the word for another (it does not have to be "part of a whole").

And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,

Most presumably, the eternal Footman, is Death, (which then becomes a personification as well, as we have seen above.)

Which brings us to our most fundamental and perhaps the most complex, if not, at least the most heavily studied figure of speech, which as we all know, is metaphor.

Take these lines as an example:

The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes  
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,

This is an absolute metaphor where there is no discernable resemblance between the idea and image. Smoke does not have tongues, and the metaphor establishes a relationship, which would otherwise be literally impossible. Yet if we look into the lines, we can see another layer. "Rubs its back", "rubs its muzzle", "licked its tongue", "lingered", "slipped", "sudden leap", "curled", "fell asleep" are all actions in this section that imply some sort of domestic animal; a dog or a cat. We can conclude that this is then an implied metaphorbetween the yellow fog and a cat/dog (as opposed to being openly metaphoric i.e. the yellow fog is a cat.) (Not to metion the "fell asleep" and "fall upon its back" being a technique called antanaclasis, while the expression "fall asleep" in itself is an idiom.)

We can see many more metaphors, some more conspicuous than others such as "Do I dare disturb the universe?" (which is, by the way, also an erotema.)

Where as "I have measured out my life with coffeespoons" is an active metaphor (that is, it is obviously a metaphor, and is newly constructed by the author), and "porcelain" (originally from an Italian word for a type of seashell adapted to chinaware because of a resemblance in lustre) is a dead metaphor (metaphors that have lost its metaphoric significance), expressions that are now commonplace but still can be identified as a metaphor such as "voices dying" are often called dormant metaphors.

"I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker" is another implied correlation between a flame and "greatness" where the image of the flame is implied. The epigraph taken from Dante's "Inferno" sheds light on an extended metaphor between Guido and Prufrock, and "though I have seen my head brought in upon a platter, I am no prophet" and "I have heard the mermaids singing each to each" correlate Prufrock with John the Baptist (or Iokanaan from Oscar Wilde's "Salome") and Ulysses from Homer's epic respectively.

There are far more figures of speech, that if we listed them all here, it would bore you and make us forget the main topic we are investigating, which (if we haven't forgotten already) is "imagery".

We have seen through just one single piece of poetry, the vast range of technique that can and is being used, to enhance the imagery the writer can convey to the reader. And now the question arises: "But what do I care? Who keeps track of these things when writing a poem anyway?" Studies from linguist Noam Chomsky proves that people can discern meaning from sentences that lack proper grammatical structure, and can produce proper grammatical structure without being fully aware of the structural rules being used.

"I ignore them." says a writer we questioned, "Not really because I'm trying to achieve anything specific, just because I'm terrible at remembering what the terms mean. If I tried to use them, I'd just end up getting lost in a textbook somewhere, not writing poetry.
"Another agrees "I don't think about any of those. I've used all of them, but I try not to over think the process. I want my writing to be organic not methodical." But then, it is a matter of preference as another writer claims "I personally use figures of speech a lot. Because they make me happy. I'm being completely honest. I just love language.. and how it all works."

Figures of speech are, as one writer states, "a tool" in creating poetry. Just as in any other art form, from painting to computer graphics to music to handcraft, knowing which tools are available, and knowing how they work will definitely be an advantage to the artist. Of course for the finished work to excel, it is not sufficient to know your tools, but you must be able to understand how to apply them skillfully. (Although going with Chomsky, it may be possible - but not necessarily recommendable - to apply them without knowing how they work.) And if it is to stand out among others, it must be applied as it has not been applied before, meaning that on top of all the fundamental, lies the second significant aspect of writing imagery: originality.

4-2: Originality

One writer contends, "[g]iven that imagery is originality of expression, I think that one of the major gripes with the lesser quality poems on this site is that the same manner of expression is used consistently, to the point of those certain images that are used being clichéd and losing their impact. Therefore it is refreshing to see someone develop a concept (and it may well be the same concept as developed in lesser quality poems) using different images, and developing them, so that we may identify with what they are saying on a deeper level." (If you may recall, we have taken up "originality" and its importance in poetry in our previous compilation on "Angst"  poetry.)

Other opinions in accordance claim "[i]magery makes the poem yours. It livens it up, it gives it qualities and [a] character that only you, the writer, could give to a poem." and "creative imagery (such as the sound effects used by Wilfred Owen in "Dulce Et Decorum Est") makes the poem more all-encompassing. Rather than simply reading words on a page that may or may not elicit emotion, the use of imagery plays on all senses and gets a better response from the reader. Also, it simply makes it more interesting when people find a new way to say something," giving poetry "taste, style, intensity [and] personality."

Originality is something that cannot be quantified, but nevertheless we decided to put forth an experiment in hopes of at least grasping how a single thought can spawn a variety of results depending on the writer's mind.

We have therefore presented to the writing community the set of lines below and asked the writers to add imagery. For details of how this project went through, you can access this… This thread can be referenced, but we will refrain from identifying the entries with the names of deviants in this compilation, in accordance to our principles.

the given lines:
Everyone hates her fair and rich beauty
and nobody misses a plucked rose.
I mourn his death, and will mourn every year.
There are many stars in the sky above this snowy scene.

These lines were made by substracting poetic imagery from 4 different poems, taken from: the first stanza of H.D.'s "Helen", lines 5-8 from Emily Dickinson's "Nobody knows this little rose", the first stanza of Walt Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in Door-yard Bloom'd",  and the first stanza of Robert Frost's Stars for each respective line.

First line

Though many writers have ventured to create new ideas to incorporate in their entries, we are only weighing the originality how imagery was "enhanced" or built upon. The following were examples of creative imagery for the first line: "Everyone hates her fair and rich beauty"

First of all there are those who have incorporated "metaphors" to increase imagery (as seen in the previous section on "figures of speech"), such as #2: "Plain earth loathes the shining sky" or #4:"Loathing cooks amidst gold pots and silk sheets."
With #17 we see an elaborate and detailed image of the scene in a form close to prose:"Everyone in this dusty midwestern farm town passionately hates Maltilde lightfoot./ They hate her irradescent tafeta city clothes, taylored and embroidered./ The towns people are jealous of her fair, flawless cream colored skin, the glowing pale pink blush across her cheeks radiating a kind of whispering purity. / Mathilde's fresh face, was so unlike the weathered and wrinkled brown hides of the farmers wives that it created a thick fog of a distance. a muddy flood of supressed anger. / Some said such culture came with an intangible rich beauty far beyond the mere physical body, however, /book smarts and a fancy tea set were not enough to win friends among the women her age nor would it win an admirerer."

We can see an effective use of the anaphora in #15: "She! Oh thatflying dutchman of the walk, / steppin all where people talk and work / and slave away. / She! Oh she steps around the mopped floors / and speaks so kindly to the sleepers / that we all just know she can't be anything but / hypocrite! / She! she steals my boys and makes them fools / and while she doesn't destroy my moping those boys do! / the drool is what her feet don't do to my nicely  / shined floors!"
Although somewhat twisted from the original lines, #23: "she has nothing to do with humans at all, / pretty in a white dress, / and the shock of finding her / unsanitary / sends weeping chauvanists to the side of her grave-hole." and #26: "in plastic-lipped allure she barbs her sneer/and masks her empty skull with golden hair," #8 "And she is the diamond-thing, / stained and only more beautiful for the stains / of ink and darkness. / Cracks of near smeared blood," were also notable.

Second line

This second line proved to be the most difficult of the 4 lines. There were of course metaphoric lines as #2: "a spent smoke is soon forgot," or a detailed description of a "rose" as in #3 "ruby as the blood dripping from the stem," but many had trouble creating something out of it and subsequently, their best lines were reserved for one of the other 3 lines.

Third line

The keyword for the third line seemed to be "mourn," as "beauty" was the keyword for the first line. From the answers we have received, it seems writers tend to be able to create imagery when they have a strong clear-cut concept to work with.
#6: "Prostrated on a self-fulfilling waterbed/She aims for the sky, to reach the sheet/Where he now lies, beckoning;" #28: "The big Victorian church engulfs us fifty with its / Somber hues, harsh lighting, cracked ceilings and more," #1:  "the wind blows against the window/and the rattling shakes the house/as if there was no foundation/to hold it up." all use different interpretations of imagery to describe the feeling of mourning. #5: "There are many stars in the sky above this snowy scene as santa and his ranedear pass by, leeving missus claws alown to mourn wile diping her cookies in melk..." is also a notable.

Fourth line

As was with the first and third, the last line garnered many creative responses as well, although being given a specific substance such as "star" and "snow" and "sky" (rather than ideas such as "beauty" or actions such as "mourn" or "miss",) a lot of the answers tended to drift in the same direction. For example, 17 out of the 29 entries we have received retain the word "snow" or one of its variants. 15 out of 29 has a variant of "star", while 13 out of 29 have a variant of "sky". Not that it is in any way wrong to retain these words, but compared to even the most repeated words from the other lines such as hate (8/29), beauty (12/29), mourn (10/29), death (11/29), the fourth line stands out as being the most intact in correspondence with the original given lines. Notable results were #27: "each is the same in the silver shards / that hang, in flux, precipitous / outside the gasp of a stifled shroud," #26: "'neath white confetti strewn by childish arms," #21: "Machine blue injects down from the freckled night sky", #18: " as greenish rust can cloak a padlocked night. Signs  / work hard to signal frost / on early morning roundabouts," #13: "leaving ice crystals reflecting tapestries, / intersecting mirror-lined tracks," #10: "In the deep sapphire sky above the clean white landscape, / a million myriad of diamonds rest, resplendent as the shepherds' guide," #4: "A backlit white blanket finds itself with moth eaten holes."

Notable as a whole

These three poems have been exclusively picked for its originality and skill in building upon the given lines. (Note: They may have varying leveles of extra ideas or lines that stem away from the original lines.)

Still Sounds of the Potomac

Everyone hates her
because she is more than they expect

She lingers like a sticky kiss
long after they have closed the bag
of assumption above her head
tied off tightly with a messy knot
of conclusion and conjecture

When she cuts her way out
with the sharp sides of her tongue
and wanders off, almost untouched
they are left standing in the cold
breathless and bleeding

She is no more than fair
and the rich beauty of her opponents
leaves them vulnerable to her subtle method of defense
They find themselves sliding down the icy hill
of her entendre and insinuation
spiked heels and satin gowns
suddenly of little use in the coldness of her reply

He would have chided her, reminding her
she's a flower, and to speak so is to strip away her petals
'Nobody misses a plucked rose.'
He would have waved a finger.
Despite his dapper and his reserve, she thinks
'I mourn his death, and will mourn it every year.'

There are nights she feels
(and this may be one)
she has as many regrets
as there are stars in the sky
masquerading as distant doves
maybe made of diamonds
above this snowy scene

All the matchstick folk recoil in brushstrokes at her
glazed-gold fronds and marble skin. Who
would care for the wrenched-up flower, whose petals always flail?
I weep rivets above his rotted corpuscle, while pages take flight
from the shredded calendar upon my dirttrench wall.

Snowdrops confuse themselves and mimic amid a suburb of stars.

we could not say she would be missed
were she not here. instead
we miss her absence
even as she is,

and in his absence
he is missed all the more
as days pass us standing still in beauty,
her brilliance

dull against the space he filled,
brushing past the garden's
battered stems
without a second look.

here she stands. there he stood.
we would but cannot
turn away, though
throughout all our skies

snow like stars and stars like snow
blanket us with nothing
but our own white noise
to tie the two together.


To Continue to "Poeticks: On Imagery" 3 of 3, click this…
Permission of Use

The screenshot for this section of our compilation is based on the deviation Half Past Midnight by *drahomira, used with his permission. It may not be used or reproduced without the consent of * drahomira and `poeticks. If there are any violation of copyright laws, please note us and we will try to fix the issue as soon as time allows.
Yes, I agree, the examples in this section are very good. I quite liked the reworking of the given lines. Very useful, thanks.
krissie Apr 5, 2005   General Artist
I've read all three of this composition -- this one was my favourite for all the wonderful examples. I've gained a lot from reading this, and have saved the three parts for future reference. I'm convinced that whenever I get a little stuck trying to portray an image, your work will help me continue. Thank you!
Add a Comment: