Definition of Personification
Personification is a figure of speech in which a thing – an idea or an animal – is given human attributes. The non-human objects are portrayed in such a way that we feel they have the ability to act like human beings. For example, when we say, “The sky weeps,” we are giving the sky the ability to cry, which is a human quality. Thus, we can say that the sky has been personified in the given sentence.
Common Examples of Personification
- Look at my car. She is a beauty, isn’t she?
- The wind whispered through dry grass.
- The flowers danced in the gentle breeze.
- Time and tide wait for none.
- The fire swallowed the entire forest.
We see from the above examples of personification that this literary device helps us relate actions of inanimate objects to our own emotions.
Short Examples of Personification in Speech
- The shadow of the moon danced on the lake.
- There was a heavy thunderstorm, the wind snorted outside, rattling my windowpanes.
- The flowers were blooming, and the bees kissed them every now and then.
- The flood raged over the entire village.
- The tread of time is so ruthless that it tramples even the kings under its feet.
- It was early morning – I met a cat yawning and stretching in the street.
- The skyscraper was so tall that it seemed to kiss the sky.
- The tree was pulled down, and the birds lamented over its dead body.
- The tall pines in the hilly area fondled the clouds.
- The long road to his home was a twisting snake, with no visible end.
- The full moon peeped through partial clouds.
- His car suffered a severe stroke in the middle of the road, and refused to move forward.
- The ship danced over the undulating waves of the ocean.
- When he sat the test, the words and the ideas fled from his mind.
- When he came out of the house of his deceased friend, everything looked to him to be weeping.
Examples of Personification in Literature
Example #1: The Green Gables Letters (By L. M. Montgomery)
“I hied me away to the woods — away back into the sun-washed alleys carpeted with fallen gold and glades where the moss is green and vivid yet. The woods are getting ready to sleep — they are not yet asleep but they are disrobing and are having all sorts of little bed-time conferences and whisperings and good-nights.”
The lack of activity in the forest has been beautifully personified as the forest getting ready to sleep, busy at bed-time chatting and wishing good-nights, all of which are human customs.
Example #2: Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Scene II (By William Shakespeare)
“When well-appareled April on the heel
Of limping winter treads.”
There are two personification examples here. April cannot put on a dress, and winter does not limp, nor does it have a heel on which a month can walk. Shakespeare personifies the month of April and the winter season by giving them two distinct human qualities.
Example #3: Loveliest of Trees the Cherry Now (By A. H. Houseman)
“Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.”
He sees a cherry tree covered with beautiful white flowers in the forest, and says that the cherry tree wears white clothes to celebrate Easter. He gives human attributes to a tree in order to describe it in human terms.
Example #4: Have You Got A Brook In Your Little Heart (By Emily Elizabeth Dickinson)
“Have you got a brook in your little heart,
Where bashful flowers blow,
And blushing birds go down to drink,
And shadows tremble so?”
The bashful flowers, blushing birds, and trembling shadows are examples of personification.
Example #5: How Pearl Button Was Kidnapped (By William Shakespeare)
“Pearl Button swung on the little gate in front of the House of Boxes. It was the early afternoon of a sunshiny day with little winds playing hide-and-seek in it.”
It personifies wind by saying that it is as playful as little children playing hide-and-seek on a sunny day.
Example #6: Two Sunflowers Move in a Yellow Room (By William Blake)
Move in the Yellow Room.
‘Ah, William, we’re weary of weather,’
said the sunflowers, shining with dew.
Our traveling habits have tired us.
Can you give us a room with a view?”
This poem by William Blake contains a lot of examples of personification. The poem starts in a dialogue form, where a sunflower is directly addressing the poet by calling his name. Again, in the third line the flower says, “our travelling habits have tired us”, which is a good personification. The flowers are depicting a human characteristic of weariness caused by the weather. In a human way, they make a request to the poet to put them in a room with a window with plenty of sunshine.
Example #7: I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud (By William Wordsworth)
“I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”
This poem by William Wordsworth contains artistic examples of personification. The fourth line says, “A host of golden daffodils,” and the fifth line has those flowers “Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”
Example #8: The Waste Land (By T. S. ELIOT)
“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”
These are the opening lines of The Waste Land, by T. S. Eliot. The very first line contains personification in that it labels April as the cruelest month’.
Example #9: Because I could not stop for Death (By Emily Dickinson)
“Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –”
The whole poem is full of examples of personification. In fact, death has been personified by the poet, saying “He kindly stopped for me.” Again in the second stanza, “He knew no haste,” and so on.
Function of Personification
Personification is not merely a decorative device, but serves the purpose of giving deeper meanings to literary texts. It adds vividness to expressions, as we always look at the world from a human perspective. Writers and poets rely on personification to bring inanimate things to life, so that their nature and actions are understood in a better way. Because it is easier for us to relate to something that is human, or which possesses human traits, its use encourages us to develop a perspective that is new as well as creative.
Writing About Poetry
Contributors: Purdue OWL
Last Edited: 2018-02-21 12:51:36
Writing about poetry can be one of the most demanding tasks that many students face in a literature class. Poetry, by its very nature, makes demands on a writer who attempts to analyze it that other forms of literature do not. So how can you write a clear, confident, well-supported essay about poetry? This handout offers answers to some common questions about writing about poetry.
What's the Point?
In order to write effectively about poetry, one needs a clear idea of what the point of writing about poetry is. When you are assigned an analytical essay about a poem in an English class, the goal of the assignment is usually to argue a specific thesis about the poem, using your analysis of specific elements in the poem and how those elements relate to each other to support your thesis.
So why would your teacher give you such an assignment? What are the benefits of learning to write analytic essays about poetry? Several important reasons suggest themselves:
- To help you learn to make a text-based argument. That is, to help you to defend ideas based on a text that is available to you and other readers. This sharpens your reasoning skills by forcing you to formulate an interpretation of something someone else has written and to support that interpretation by providing logically valid reasons why someone else who has read the poem should agree with your argument. This isn't a skill that is just important in academics, by the way. Lawyers, politicians, and journalists often find that they need to make use of similar skills.
- To help you to understand what you are reading more fully. Nothing causes a person to make an extra effort to understand difficult material like the task of writing about it. Also, writing has a way of helping you to see things that you may have otherwise missed simply by causing you to think about how to frame your own analysis.
- To help you enjoy poetry more! This may sound unlikely, but one of the real pleasures of poetry is the opportunity to wrestle with the text and co-create meaning with the author. When you put together a well-constructed analysis of the poem, you are not only showing that you understand what is there, you are also contributing to an ongoing conversation about the poem. If your reading is convincing enough, everyone who has read your essay will get a little more out of the poem because of your analysis.
What Should I Know about Writing about Poetry?
Most importantly, you should realize that a paper that you write about a poem or poems is an argument. Make sure that you have something specific that you want to say about the poem that you are discussing. This specific argument that you want to make about the poem will be your thesis. You will support this thesis by drawing examples and evidence from the poem itself. In order to make a credible argument about the poem, you will want to analyze how the poem works—what genre the poem fits into, what its themes are, and what poetic techniques and figures of speech are used.
What Can I Write About?
Theme: One place to start when writing about poetry is to look at any significant themes that emerge in the poetry. Does the poetry deal with themes related to love, death, war, or peace? What other themes show up in the poem? Are there particular historical events that are mentioned in the poem? What are the most important concepts that are addressed in the poem?
Genre: What kind of poem are you looking at? Is it an epic (a long poem on a heroic subject)? Is it a sonnet (a brief poem, usually consisting of fourteen lines)? Is it an ode? A satire? An elegy? A lyric? Does it fit into a specific literary movement such as Modernism, Romanticism, Neoclassicism, or Renaissance poetry? This is another place where you may need to do some research in an introductory poetry text or encyclopedia to find out what distinguishes specific genres and movements.
Versification: Look closely at the poem's rhyme and meter. Is there an identifiable rhyme scheme? Is there a set number of syllables in each line? The most common meter for poetry in English is iambic pentameter, which has five feet of two syllables each (thus the name "pentameter") in each of which the strongly stressed syllable follows the unstressed syllable. You can learn more about rhyme and meter by consulting our handout on sound and meter in poetry or the introduction to a standard textbook for poetry such as the Norton Anthology of Poetry. Also relevant to this category of concerns are techniques such as caesura (a pause in the middle of a line) and enjambment (continuing a grammatical sentence or clause from one line to the next). Is there anything that you can tell about the poem from the choices that the author has made in this area? For more information about important literary terms, see our handout on the subject.
Figures of speech: Are there literary devices being used that affect how you read the poem? Here are some examples of commonly discussed figures of speech:
- metaphor: comparison between two unlike things
- simile: comparison between two unlike things using "like" or "as"
- metonymy: one thing stands for something else that is closely related to it (For example, using the phrase "the crown" to refer to the king would be an example of metonymy.)
- synecdoche: a part stands in for a whole (For example, in the phrase "all hands on deck," "hands" stands in for the people in the ship's crew.)
- personification: a non-human thing is endowed with human characteristics
- litotes: a double negative is used for poetic effect (example: not unlike, not displeased)
- irony: a difference between the surface meaning of the words and the implications that may be drawn from them
Cultural Context: How does the poem you are looking at relate to the historical context in which it was written? For example, what's the cultural significance of Walt Whitman's famous elegy for Lincoln "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed" in light of post-Civil War cultural trends in the U.S.A? How does John Donne's devotional poetry relate to the contentious religious climate in seventeenth-century England? These questions may take you out of the literature section of your library altogether and involve finding out about philosophy, history, religion, economics, music, or the visual arts.
What Style Should I Use?
It is useful to follow some standard conventions when writing about poetry. First, when you analyze a poem, it is best to use present tense rather than past tense for your verbs. Second, you will want to make use of numerous quotations from the poem and explain their meaning and their significance to your argument. After all, if you do not quote the poem itself when you are making an argument about it, you damage your credibility. If your teacher asks for outside criticism of the poem as well, you should also cite points made by other critics that are relevant to your argument. A third point to remember is that there are various citation formats for citing both the material you get from the poems themselves and the information you get from other critical sources. The most common citation format for writing about poetry is the Modern Language Association (MLA) format.