Poetry Knowledge Zone > Class 3

Figure of Speech

I got a mail from Miss. Archana from Chennai, India this week. She says,

'Dear Smitha,
I have been interested in writing poems since childhood, I have written many poems, but the results haven't been great. I have good ideas but when I put them on the paper, they end up sounding dull and dried. Someone told me it sounded more like prose or a series of sentences, rather than a poem. Can you help me add a little zing to my poetry?'

There are many people who face the same problem as Archana does. They have all the ideas but when they put pen to paper, it doesn't sound all that great. Of course a good poetry comes from lot of practice, but there are some techniques you can incorporate to 'add a little zing' to your poetry.

One of the easiest and most effective ones is the use of figures of speech. You can make your poem more interesting, descriptive, more alive and hold the audience interest by the use of these.

Let's consider this sentence. "She had deep blue eyes."

Now lets add a little figure of speech to this line,

"She had eyes as blue as the sky and as deep as the ocean."

Sounds better? Reads better? Conveys your idea better? 

A simple figure of speech can add a lot of dimensions to a sentence. Below, I am listing most of the commonly used figures of speech. This is by no way a complete list. If you know of others which you think should be here, send them to me and I will see that they are put up.

It is not necessary that you really know the names of all of these, just what they stand for. In fact you will notice that we often use most of them, with out really thinking about it.

The most commonly used figure of speech, it directly compares one object to another, using words 'as', 'as though', 'as if', 'as '.. as' and 'like'

E.g. Eyes as blue as the sky and deep like the ocean 

It is similar to simile but uses indirect comparison. It compares two things by saying one thing is another thing. It does not use the words like or as.

E.g. He was a lion in the battle field
       She was a spring flower

It is another very commonly used figure of speech, which simply translated means exaggeration. 

E.g. A thousand times I begged his pardon
       A city filled with misers and louts

Tautology means the repetition of the same word more than once in a line.

E.g. Handsome is as handsome does
       A friend in need is a friend indeed

Alliterations imply the repetition of the same sound or letter usually at the beginning of words. A very common example for alliteration which we would all recognize with would be tongue twisters.

E.g. Betty bought some butter but the butter was bitter so Betty bought some better butter to make the bitter butter better.

Personification simply means making inanimate things behave in a very human like way.

E.g. The wind whispers secrets in my ears

It uses the sound of whatever it is describing.

E.g. The tinkle of the bangles
       The jingle of the bells
       The rustling of the streams

This is generally used in a humorous context. It creates an impact by denying the opposite of what is true.

E.g. I never said I didn't hit him
The burglar didn't mind the diamonds he found

It is a contradictory phrase

E.g. Your answers are perfectly wrong
        It is genuinely fake

Transferred Epithet
It is an epithet which has been transferred from the word to which it strictly belongs to another word connected with it in thought.

E.g. It was a dark day.
       The afternoon was horribly wet

It is the use of words with opposite meanings in the same line.

E.g. The good and bad of it lies in where you look
        He was neither fat nor skinny

It uses either the part of an object to describe the whole or vice versa.

E.g. The face that launched a thousand ships
        Indian won the match by a 100 runs

It is the omission of the common words that make a sentence grammatically correct

E.g. He thus in reply

It is the substitution of an agreeable or non-offensive word or expression for one that is harsh, indelicate, or otherwise unpleasant.

E.g. She lay thus in eternal undisturbed sleep

It is the repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of successive clauses

E.g. Her love made her live, her love made her grieve
       Her beauty was her best friend, her beauty her worst enemy

It is a diversion of discourse from the topic at hand to addressing some person or thing, either present or absent.

E.g. My love for you drives me to great depths
       Will I live normally again?
       Oh God! Tell me Is my love even true
       Or is this what my fate drives me to do??

It is a seemingly contradictory statement at first reading, but yet on deeper perusal makes sense

E.g. She lives among us, ten years after her death

There are many figures of speech which I have not listed, some because I don't know them and some because I feel they aren't widely used. 

Figure of speech is a very powerful tool in the hands of a poet. It can be used subtly and effectively to add a whole new dimension to your words. In fact it would not a be a great exaggeration to say, a figure of speech plays a huge part in separating a prose from a poetry. 

So, I would like you to pay lot of attention here. Pick any of the poem you wrote earlier on and pep it with some figures of speech. Now observe the difference. You are still essentially saying the same thing, but it sounds so much more lively and so much more meaningful.

As always, I await your mails and forum postings. I find that there are many more views to the form topic than posting. I would appreciate it if you would at least drop a 'hi' in the forum to let me know you visited. It is so encouraging to see the postings there and know that many people are reading what I write.   

Till next week, have fun writing.     

Image (c) Gettyimages.com

Smitha Chakravarthula


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