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Introduction to Poetic Devices for ESL Classes

Metaphor and Simile


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 Depending on the poetry you are reading, out-of-date vocabulary and expressions are often used.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 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 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.


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'.


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)

Alliteration - The repetition of beginning consonant sounds.


Silently seeking the silky sounds.

Assonance - The repetition of vowel sounds.


Elaine waited in plain train.

Rhyme - The similarity of ending sounds existing between two words.


Inside, above the din and fray,
We heard the loud musicians play

Meter - The recurrence of a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables.


We caught the tread of dancing feet,
We loitered down the moonlit street,
And stopped beneath the harlot's house.

(by: Oscar Wilde)

Onomatopoeia - The use of words which imitate sound.


He crashed into the car as he heard the screech of the wheels.

Repetition - the repeating of words, phrases, lines, or stanzas.


Hear the sledges with the bells --
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!

(by: Edgar Alan Poe)

Imagery - Words or phrases that use the senses or a combination of senses.


His could almost taste his fear as he smelt the fright of the bolting horse.

Personification - A figure of speech which endows animals, ideas, or inanimate objects with human traits or abilities.


The window winked at me.

Poetic Devices - Point of View

Point-of-view - The author's point-of-view concentrates on the speaker, or "teller", of the story or poem.


Walking through the streets at night,
Looking at stars that shine so bright,
It hurts to consider things not to be.

Things not to had by me.

1st person: the speaker is a character in the story or poem and tells it from his/her perspective (uses "I")


Then, turning to my love, I said,
`The dead are dancing with the dead,
The dust is whirling with the dust.'

(by: Oscar Wilde)

3rd person: the speaker is not part of the story, but tells about the other characters.


His story is old,
His heart is young,
He the strong, noble one.

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