Introduction to Poetic Devices for ESL Classes

Reading poetry is challenging in any language. Depending on the poetry you are reading, out-of-date vocabulary and expressions are often used. To help you get a feeling for poetry in English there are a few devices that you can recognise to help you understand the text better.

Metaphors

Metaphors make a comparison between two objects with the intent of giving clearer meaning to one of them. Often forms of the "to be" verb are used, such as "is" or "was", to make the comparison.

Similes

Similes make a comparison between two objects using a specific word or comparison such as "like", "as", or "than".

Of course, there are many other poetic devices. You will find a list of the most important poetic devices arranged by their purpose on the following pages.

Another useful tool to use when reading poetry is a thesaurus. A thesaurus is a book containing systematized lists of synonyms and related words. You can find an excellent online thesaurus at this reference site.

Metaphor - A comparison between two objects giving meaning to one of them. Often forms of the "to be" verb are used, such as "is" or "was", to make the comparison.

Example:

The boy was a helpless bird waiting for its mother.

Simile - A comparison between two objects using a specific word or comparison such as 'like', 'as', or 'than'.

Example:

We watched the ghostly dancers spin
To sound of horn and violin,
Like black leaves wheeling in the wind.

Like wire-pulled automatons,
Slim silhouetted skeletons
Went sidling through the slow quadrille.

(by: Oscar Wilde)

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