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What Is Characterization in Poetry?


Characterization is a method that a writer uses to reveal a character’s personality. Characters in poetry may be revealed using their actions, words or thoughts or other characters’ words or thoughts. They may also be revealed using imagery or a poignant type of figurative language, such as a particular metaphor or analogy. Because poetry is a more distilled form of art than prose, characterization through imagery, metaphors and other types of concentrated language are much more common.

Types of Characterization

The poet, just like a prose writer, chooses the best way to present and introduce his characters. Character presentation can be divided into two types: direct presentation and indirect presentation. Characters who are described by the writer, the narrator or other characters in the poem are presented directly, while those whose traits are revealed by their actions and speech are presented indirectly.

Characters

Characters in poetry appear in a variety of ways. As in prose, the protagonist is the main character of the poem, though not necessarily the hero, and the antagonist is the protagonist’s opponent. Certain poems, such as long epic poems, may also have secondary characters whose actions are in opposition to the protagonist’s actions. These characters may simply be secondary or auxiliary characters or foil characters, characters who serve as alternative examples of the protagonist.

Speaker or Persona

Occasionally, a poem will have a speaker or a persona. A persona appears in first person, using the pronoun “I.” The speaker of the poem is never the writer, but a fictional character, which the writer sometimes uses as an alter ego or a mask. Personas are quite common in poetry that is written in first person, and in lyrical poetry, and they are used to distinguish the writer of the poem from the character in the poem.

Classification of Characters

Characters in poetry can be classified as flat or round and as developing or static. Flat characters are characters who fulfill some basic function and have only a few developed traits. Round characters are fully developed, three-dimensional characters. Dynamic characters are those who change throughout the poem, while static characters are those who tend to remain unchanged throughout the poem.

How Characterization Appears in Poetry

Unlike in prose, where is there room for the writer to use long description and complex interactions to reveal a character, characterization in poetry is often focused and concentrated in a few lines or an image or in an inventive use of figurative language, such as a poignant metaphor. The writer may use meter, rhyme, imagery, action or even setting to reveal something about a particular character. For instance, a poem may distill an important moment in a character’s life into a single metaphor and then expand upon that metaphor in order to show the character’s evolution.

About the Author

Kate Prudchenko has been a writer and editor for five years, publishing peer-reviewed articles, essays, and book chapters in a variety of publications including Immersive Environments: Future Trends in Education and Contemporary Literary Review India. She has a BA and MS in Mathematics, MA in English/Writing, and is completing a PhD in Education.

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