Tips on Personification in Poetry
Personification is used to give inanimate things, ideas, emotions or animals human characteristics. This figure of speech creates a connection between the reader and an object that would otherwise be lifeless. An entire poem can be written from the point of view of something that does not have the ability to speak or think, helping us to understand the object, animal or abstraction in a new way. Likewise, one item or many can be personified in a poem.
Thoughts, concepts or emotions, such as envy or love, can be personified as characters in poetry. To personify an emotion or concept in your poetry, you can imagine what kinds of traits that abstraction would possess if it were a person and how you want the personified emotion to be perceived. For example, in the poem, “Because I Could Not Stop For Death” by Emily Dickinson, death drives the speaker in a carriage to the afterlife. Dickinson played against expectations, making death not scary, as it is usually presented, but pleasant.
Poems often contain anthropomorphized animals. The animal's natural attributes represent the kind of person the animal would be if it were human. Also, objects in poems can be personified as animals instead of people. For example, fog becomes a cat in “Fog” by Carl Sandburg and in “The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot. In both cases, the poets chose a cat because the fog lingers and seems lethargic. Whether you stick with conventional assumptions or go against them, readers will feel they understand the personified object and themselves better.
Elements of nature can also be personified in poems, as making nature more human creates intensity and helps the reader connect. For example, instead of simply describing the force of a hurricane’s winds in your poem, you could say that the hurricane is furious. This small change gives the hurricane more emotional impact and you can be certain the reader understands a feeling they have experienced firsthand even if they’ve never been in a hurricane.
Giving life to common inanimate objects gives them power and novelty. For example, instead of writing that he waited for the phone to ring, you could write that the phone silently stared at him, creating tension between the man and the phone. The phone has become a character with an attitude, which adds conflict to your poem and makes it more interesting. Using personification, you can make everyday items and ideas new and more accessible.
Courtney O'Banion Smith holds degrees in communication, English and creative writing. For more than 11 years, she has taught English, composition, literature, and creative writing courses to college students from diverse backgrounds both face-to-face and online.