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The Importance of Personification in Poetry


Poets see the same world we see, but often through a different lens. They can describe elements that we take for granted and entice readers to see the world differently. According to the Poetry Foundation, personification is "A figure of speech in which the poet describes an abstraction, a thing, or a nonhuman form as if it were a person." For example, saying "The wind whistled" or "The wind howled" describe the wind conditions in an emotional way. Personification brings human qualities such as emotion, sensation and understanding to objects that people would normally not be able to relate to.

Personification in Natural Elements

Poets use personification to more deeply explain nature; this tool helps nature to come alive and display vibrancy. In "Blue-Butterfly Day" by Robert Frost, he writes "But these are flowers that fly and all but sing: / And now from having ridden out desire / They lie closed over in the wind and cling." If flowers "sing" and "ride out desire," Frost shows with personification the positive, musical and human qualities of butterflies and flowers. This portrays a positive mood. Another example of personifying nature is found in "Grass" by Carl Sandburg. In this poem, grass becomes a person with a job: to take care of and cover all of the bodies who have died in the many wars. The speaker, grass, says, "I am the grass. / Let me work." The matter-of-fact tone of the grass when dealing with death helps the reader see death as natural. The somber tone and mood created through the personification gives insight into the natural cycle of death.

Personification of Feelings

Although each human experiences emotions, it is often impossible to imagine the emotions themselves. By using personification, poets can succinctly help readers empathize, by having them "walk in the emotion's shoes." Poet Kahlil Gibran personifies feelings in "On Joy and Sorrow." He writes, "Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed." Having emotions "sit" and "sleep" makes the poem come alive, Another poem, "A Lament" by Percy Bysshe Shelley, shares the idea that the feeling of joy will never come back because it has flown away. He writes "Out of the day and night / A joy has taken flight." Feelings are given wings to get away and stay away. This personification is important because it sets the mood of the piece; to lament is to mourn loudly, and the reader can understand the sadness more fully if the joy has "taken flight."

Personification of Machines

Using personification to describe machines is important for poets, because it is often hard for people to understand the workings of machines. In "The Train," Emily Dickinson explains "I like to see it lap the miles, / And lick the valleys up, / And stop to feed itself at tanks." The idea of a train "feeding itself" with gasoline brings the reader closer in understanding to the topic of the poem. William Carlos Williams uses "Yachts" to personify the life of a boat. He writes "The Yachts contend in a sea which the land partly encloses/ shielding them from the too-heavy blows." By describing a machine as a person, the reader is able to feel empathy for the object.

Importance of Figures of Speech

Poets use figures of speech such as metaphor, simile and personification to connect with their readers quickly and passionately. Personification engages readers forcefully; if nature, feelings and objects are given human qualities, then the humans more readily understand the situation and relate to the poet's world. Poets try to uncover the humanity of emotion through the use of personification. According to Shelley, "Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar." Personification is a powerful tool that lifts the veil to unearth the beauty of the world. William Wordsworth writes, "Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility." Through personification, readers can understand the mood and feelings the poet is trying to create more easily.

About the Author

Kathryne Bradesca has been a writing teacher for more than 15 years. She has also contributed to newspapers and magazines such as "The Morning Journal" and "The Ignatius Quarterly." Bradesca received a master's degree in teaching from Kent State University.

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