What Does Sensory Imagery Mean in Poetry?
Good poetry can paint a vivid portrait of a scene, emotion or similar subject matter with words. Students who are beginning to master the basics of different types of poetry often get stuck focusing on the rhyme scheme or rhythm of the poem, but rich sensory imagery can be just as important as proper meter.
Sensory Imagery Basics
Sensory imagery is any description that involves one or more of the five senses -- touch, sight, taste, smell and sound. Poetry that is rich in sensory detail helps the reader perfectly envision the scene the poet is describing. "I walked in the grass" becomes rich in sensory detail when changed to, "The charred scent of the crisp, freshly-burned grass stabbed my nose as it crumbled under my feet." Adjectives play a prime role in developing sensory imagery, but some adjectives are better than others. Stating that grass is green helps the reader picture the color, but explaining the hue of green or comparing the color to another color can make the image more vivid.
Sensory Imagery Tools
Sensory imagery doesn't just rely on adjectives. Metaphors can also play a prime role. Describing a break-up as creating a sharp, stabbing pain, for example, helps the reader better understand the emotions a poet is feeling. Similes are also common; a poet might describe her emotions as "like a rolling tide." Some poems that describe emotions or sensations create sensory images. A person writing about depression, for example, might talk about being trapped in a dark, silent cell.
Most good poems use some sensory imagery, but sensory poems are poems that are particularly rich in sensory imagery. These poems sometimes take one scene or emotion and use a wide variety of sensory images to analyze and explain it. For example, a poet might state that anxiety is paralyzing, stabbing, cold and prickly.
Sensory Imagery Exercises
Developing strong descriptions and imagery can help you improve the sensory imagery in your poetry. Try writing several sentences about a particular topic before you draft your poem, and focus solely on evoking sensory imagery. Next, picture a scene in your poem and describe it using all five senses, in the most vivid language you can muster. After you've developed the sensory descriptions of the scene or emotion you want to convey, you can focus on developing a rhythm and rhyme scheme that suits the poem.
- The University of Tennessee VolWeb Project: Imagery
- A Poetry Handbook; Mary Oliver
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.