Poetry is a form of literature that takes full advantage of the rhythmic, melodic, and aesthetic qualities of language in order to convey meaning beyond traditional prose. It has been described as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings “ by William Wordsworth, while Dylan Thomas refers to it as “What makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing." Poetry strives to evoke an emotional response, to communicate with those engaging with it, and to utilise language to its full potential. Oftentimes, it strives towards the creation and appreciation of art, of beauty, and of taste. What I find especially exciting about poetry is that it uses a variety of forms and conventions to suggest alternative interpretations of words and the types of emotion they are meant to evoke. Some common techniques and tools used in poetry for the manipulation of language and its meaning are:
Alliteration -Alliteration is the conscious repetition of the initial syllables of within proximity of each other. Alliteration can be used to add melodic value to a poem or to accentuate a certain sound and the meaning behind its words.
Metaphor - Metaphors communicate meaning and ideas by stating that one object is another. There is no direct comparison through words such as “this is like that“, but rather metaphors state that “this is that“. Metaphors add an additional layer of meaning and complexity within poetry as they force the audience to analyse what is being said and to interpret the work by making these emotive connections.
Symbolism - Much like the Metaphor, Symbolism uses one object to represent another, straying away from the literal meaning of a word to give it more significance and value. Symbols are traditionally universally recognised in culture, for example the Apple as a symbol of knowledge.
Allusion - An allusion in poetry is an intentional reference to a specific historical, mythic or biblical event, a person, a movement, a work, etc. With allusion, it is typically up to the audience to make the connection and fit it into the context of the poem.
Meter - Meter is the rhythmic structure of a verse or a series of verses. It can be consistent throughout a poem or it can shift, depending on the effect a poet would like to achieve through it. Meter is most commonly concerned with the number of syllables, stressed syllables, and how often they appear based on intervals of time, however, there are other possible methods, for example qualitative meter which deals with the weight of a syllable.
What makes poetry so exciting is the possibility to communicate any conceivable idea and emotion though the use of tools such as the ones listed above, through the careful craftsmanship of language, the contextual meanings of words. It begs its audience to dive deeper into the work and to think about what is being said. An additional layer of difficulty and challenge within poetry is that it typically considers elements such as syllable count, repetition of certain sounds, melody, and meter. It holds the potential for endless expression, while also following logical rules and limitations, making it an incredibly versatile medium.
Lady Lazarus is one of Sylvia Plath’s most famous poems, which is often used to illustrate her overall style of writing. It is a direct reference to the New Testament, specifically when Jesus resurrects Lazarus from the dead. In “Lady Lazarus“ this is used to signify the narrator’s seeming resurrection from two past suicide attempts, one accidental, one intentional. The reason I am taking a closer investigation and analysis of Sylvia Plath’s poem is her use of allusion and startling imagery, specifically her references to the horrors of concentration camps. Through the use of language and those poetic devices, Plath is trying to show that her psychological and mental struggles are equally painful and torturous. Plath expertly represents human agony, anguish, and describes her own body as dead by comparing her face to fine Jew linen, which was typically used to wrap the dead in. Overall, Plath’s work is full of metaphors and symbolism, using language to convey meaning beyond the literal translation of words. This makes her poetry and excellent example of the power of this form of literature and its incredible versatility in the use of language.
The Raven is arguably Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous poem and it is known for its melodic qualities and for its themes of hopelessness, despair, inevitability, and certainty. Unlike Lady Lazarus, which is primarily focused on metaphor and symbolism, The Raven also takes advantage of melody and harmony by taking advantage of a fairly strict meter and rhyming scheme. Specifically, the Raven is mostly in trochaic octameter, while its predominant end-rhyme scheme is ABCBBB, which frequent use of alliteration and internal rhyming. What specifically interests me in The Raven in terms of themes, is the idea that one cannot fully trust what they are seeing and hearing when it comes to loss and grief. The narrator has found themselves in a state of seemingly eternal and relentless suffering over the loss of a loved one and it feels as though there is no salvation at all. The question becomes whether what the narrator is experiencing is real, a dream, or some form of self-constructed hallucination. It’s a matter of questioning one’s own senses, identity, and experiences. The Raven is a culmination of theme and rhythm, taking full advantage of language’s properties in both meaning and sound.