How Poetry Works

Literary Effects in Poetry

Since poetry is, essentially, a form of creative writing, it uses some of the same tools found in other types of literature. Do you remember all of those "literary devices" from English class -- foreshadowing, irony, allegory, personification and so on? Well, those can all be used in poetry as well. Each can be used by the poet to change the content and meaning of the poem.

One of the most popular literary devices used in many poems is symbolism, or when one thing is used to represent another. For example, Robert Frost's famous poem "The Road Not Taken" describes two different paths in the woods. While the poem makes sense if it's read literally, the roads he writes about are actually symbols for something else -- they represent the different choices you make in life.


Metaphors and similesalso compare one thing to another thing, and can add a deeper layer of meaning to a poem. A simile compares two things using the words "like" or "as." For example, the phrase "a poem is like a beautiful painting" is a simile that compares a poem to a beautiful painting.

A metaphor compares things by saying something is something else. For example, "a poem is a blooming flower." Sometimes, however, a metaphor doesn't explicitly tell you what it's comparing. For example, "The Road Not Taken" never actually says that the roads represent choices you make in life. Because of this, metaphors can be interpreted in many different ways, and sometimes people can even perceive a metaphor in a poem when there really isn't one.

Some other common literary devices used in poetry include irony, puns, analogies, oxymorons, and many others. These are by no means the only literary devices that can be used in poems. In fact, when it comes to writing poetry, the sky's the limit on what you can use.

As you can see, there are plenty of tools a poet can use when writing a poem. Sometimes the devices a poet applies to a poem produce such a fantastic effect that the poet, or even other people, want to copy the style it's written in. As a result, there are a bunch of poetic traditions that poets over the centuries have used repeatedly. Find out more about these on the next page.