Metaphor is the brain's way of seeing, by comparing two things to understand how they are alike or different. We say something is like something we know in order to better understand something we don't know. A specific type of metaphor is a simile, a statement that says something is "like" something else or is "as" something else. 


Imagery is language that engages our senses: sight, touch, hearing, smelling, tasting, and even the sense of motion or balance. When a poet creates language that allows us to see,  hear, feel, smell, taste, or sway, she has put us into her setting, put us at the time and place of the poem. She has taken us from where we are to where she was. Creating powerful imagery is a matter of choosing the exact word for the task, but it's also important for the poet to be a person who is aware of his world, one who notices the details in all experience.


Sound in poetry is as important as the ideas in poetry. Poetry is language meant to be read aloud, to be heard by the ear as well as by the heart. When a poet uses alliteration, assonance, consonance, and other repetition, he is playing with sounds that make poetry "sing" like music. There is a cadence and a rhythm to language and the poet hears those sounds and brings them to his work. Early poets rhymed the ends of their lines to make them easier to remember because poetry was handed down orally generation to generation. Long epic poems, like the Iliad and the Odyssey were more than stories. They were the cultural myths of the people. So rhyming sound was important for storytellers to help them remember and transmit the stories.

Poetry rhymes less and less (in the old traditional way) these days. But it is no less musical. Rhymes tend to be internal rather than end rhymes. Study the poems of contemporary poets to see how they create the sounds of language.


Ideas in poetry are like themes in stories. What are we to know from reading a poem? The greatest poems are like the greatest paintings. They show us who we are, who we were, and who we could be. Ideas in poetry can be simple or complex, and many times, they can be both. Not all poems will mean the same thing to everyone, because as individuals, we bring unique experience to every poem we read. But we also must be careful to honor the poems we read by letting them say to us what they were meant to say. To do this, we must listen to them, really LISTEN to them.

The Right Word

One of the things about poetry that separates it from all other written literature is that it is concise. Haiku, for example, are powerful little poems that can be made up of fewer than fifteen words. Even the longest poems contain fewer words than most short stories or novels. Each word must be the right word, precisely chosen for its exact meaning (denotation) and its relative or associated meanings (connotation). The difference between the right word and the almost right word, Mark Twain said, is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.

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