Elements of Poetry Including Figures of Speech

Poetry is a form of literature in which the author utilizes his craft to create an emotional response. The elements of poetry are what poets use to create their work and what readers can use to interpret the poems. Poetic elements include meter, the format of poems, the sounds associated with poetry, and figurative language.


A poem’s meter is the rhythm of stressed and unstressed syllables within a line. Each unit of rhythm is called a foot and it is made up of either two or three syllables. Iambic, trochaic and spondaic meters all have two-syllable feet. In iambic meter, the pattern is unstressed then stressed. Trochaic meter features stressed then unstressed syllables and in spondaic meter, both syllables are stressed. Anapestic and dactylic meter both feature three-syllable feet. In anapestic, the first two feet are unstressed, the third stressed and in dactylic, the first is stressed, followed by two unstressed syllables.

Poem Formats

Many forms of poetry use a specific meter. Blank verse consists of unrhymed iambic pentameter; Shakespeare wrote his plays in blank verse. Free verse consists of rhymed or unrhymed verse with no meter. Most modern poets compose their poems in free verse. A stanza is several lines grouped together, something like a paragraph in a paper. A couplet is a pair of lines of the same length that often rhyme, completing a thought, usually at the end of a poem. A quatrain is a stanza consisting of four lines.

Sounds in Poetry

Rhyme scheme refers to the pattern of rhymes within a poem. A slant rhyme is one in which two words end with the same consonant, but the preceding vowel sound differs, such as the words “on” and “moon.” Alliteration is when words close together start with the same consonant sound, like “hot” and “hungry.” Assonance is when words close together repeat a middle vowel sound, usually a long vowel, for example “rages” and “day.” Onomatopoeia is when words imitate sounds, such as “buzz.” These elements add to the sound of the spoken poem.

Figures of Speech

In figures of speech, a word or phrase diverges from its literal meaning. Apostrophe is when an absent person, an abstract concept or an important object is directly addressed. For example, in the song “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” the narrator is speaking to the star. Hyperbole is the use of exaggeration for effect. For example, “I’m hungry enough to eat a horse.” Other types of figures of speech include word choice for effect. Imagery uses the five senses to create an image in the mind. A metaphor is a comparison in which an object or action means more than its literal meaning, such as “the journey of life.” Personification gives human qualities to non-humans, like “opportunity knocks.” A simile uses the words as or like, as in “eyes like the sky.”

About the Author

Nadia Archuleta has a B.A. in English writing. She spent five years working abroad and has traveled extensively. She has worked as an English as a Foreign/Second Language teacher for 12 years.

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