Literary Elements in Poetry

All poems have at least a few of the following literary elements.

Alliteration: Alliteration means two or more words which have the same initial sound.


  • big bad boy
  • pretty piece of painting
  • sun shall shine

Assonance: Assonance is a partial rhyme which has the same internal vowel sounds amongst different words.


  • He is the cool dude.
  • eating freshly mashed potatoes

Metaphor: A comparison which does not use the words “like” or “as” is called a metaphor.


  • He is the fire of my life.
  • a mountain of love
  • Here is home.

Onomatopoeia: An onomatopoeia is a word that sound like their meaning.


  • the midnight wind whispers
  • skin sizzles in the sun
  • my growling tummy

Repetitions: The repetition of the same word throughout the poem is done to emphasize significance. To illustrate this element, here’s an abstract from “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel T. Coleridge.

I looked upon the rotting sea,
And drew my eyes away;
I looked upon the rotting deck,
And there the dead men lay.

Rhyme: A rhyme refers to the repetition of sounds within different words, either end sound, middle or beginning. The ability to pronounce correctly is vital so that you’re able to detect the rhyming words. In fact, it could be used as a tool to teach pronunciation. An abstract of the poem written by Theodore Roethke entited “My Papa’s Waltz” has this element as shown below:

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

Rhythm: The rhythm can be measured in terms of heavily stressed to less stressed syllables. That is why in order to enjoy a poem and feel its mood, you need to recite or read it aloud. Here’s an instance of rhythm taken from “Hiawatha’s Departure” by Henry W. Longfellow. Each line in the stanza consists of eight syllables.

By the shore of Gitchie Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
At the doorway of his wigwam,
In the pleasant Summer morning,
Hiawatha stood and waited.

Simile: A simile is a comparison using the words “like” or “as”. It is the opposite of a metaphor.


  • eyes like dagger
  • roar loud as a lion
  • words like the tip of a knife

Style: Style refers to the way the poem is written. Free-style, ballad, haiku, etc. Includes length of meters, number of stanzas along with rhyme techniques and rhythm.

Symbol: Something that represents something else through association, resemblance or convention is called a symbol. Symbols associate two things, but their meaning is both literal and figurative.


  • You’re a hydrant that extinguishes the fire in me.
  • His life was an oak tree that had just lost its leaves.

Theme: The theme of a poem means the message, point of view and idea of the poem. The theme is derived from the reason you want to write the poem.


Posted on July 14, 2009, in Poetry and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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