menu

What Literary Elements Are Used in Poems?


Poetry is an artful expression of an idea crafted from words. Among other things, a poem can inspire courage, express love and strike fear. For most writers, poetry is a deeply personal way to communicate that draws on their innermost thoughts and feelings. Poets use literary devices and elements to communicate their message. These elements include those that relay sound, meaning and imagery.

Sound-Based Literary Elements

Alliteration is a common literary device used to produce a repetitive sound. Alliteration occurs when the consonants of nearby words sound alike, producing a bouncing effect when recited aloud. The phrase "people who pen poetry" contains alliteration. Assonance is the repetition of middle sections of nearby words. The words "June" and "food" represent assonance; they don't rhyme, but the vowel sounds are the same. Meter is the rhythm of the poem, typically established by the rhyming devices used. Iambic pentameter is a meter that involves 10 syllables per line, alternating stressed and unstressed syllables. Rhyme, the most common literary element in poetry, is formed from sound-alike words, often at the ends of lines.

Descriptive Elements

Poets use images to create a visual portrait in the reader's mind. Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken" famously describes two roads that diverge in a "yellow wood." In the poem, Frost describes the undisturbed leaves on one road and the well-worn path of the other. The description of the roads and the nearby forest are examples of the element of image. Metaphors and similes often rely on imagery in poetry. A metaphor is a literary device that compares one item to another by saying that the item is the other, for example, saying that a woman is a rose. Similes, by contrast, use "like" or "as" to establish a comparison, as in Robert Burns' famous simile "My love is like a red, red rose."

Meaning Elements

Poetry often relies on literary devices that express meaning without literally explaining the message of the poem. An allegory uses symbols to send a message. In Dante's "Inferno," the poet uses an allegory to describe the journey of a man trying to understand his life. The story is meant to symbolize all of humankind's effort to find purpose in life. Irony is another literary device that says something without actually saying it. Often the author writes the opposite of what he means, knowing that the reader will understand the sarcasm and irony in his writing. Symbols are widely accepted images used to express meaning. Apple pie is a symbol associated with innocence and home. Fruit is often used to symbolize sexuality, and ravens signify death in literature. Denotation and connotation are also common. Denotation is the poet's saying what he means; connotation is when the poet means something that may be hidden initially.

Construction Elements

Many elements used in writing poetry help to establish the construction of sentences and words. Diction refers to the choice and order of words used in poetry. The tone of the poem reflects the author's mood and dictates the reader's response to the work. Tone is established using other literary elements, including diction. Word order is another important element that determines the strength of the work. The difference between writing that a man is dying and describing him as a dying man is an example of word order.

Photo Credits
  • Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images