Theory of Figurative Language

Whenever you describe something by comparing it with something else, you are using figurative language. Figurative language is the use of language to describe something by comparing it to something else. It serves many linguistic purposes. It allows people to express abstract thoughts. It creates tone and communicates emotional content. The ability to use figurative language in writing can make a poem or story more enjoyable for the reader.

Figurative language is taking words beyond their literal meaning and can come in many different forms, all to create a vivid picture of the written word.

There are many ways to incorporate figurative language into writing, some of which come as naturally as speaking. A Simile uses the words “like” or “as” to compare one object or idea with another to suggest they are alike, such as “busy as a bee”. In Hart Crane’s, “My Grandmother’s Love Letters” he uses the simile ““liable to melt as snow” to describe the fragility of the letters that have been hidden away in the rafters.

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This use of figurative language helps the reader to visualize paper that may not be able to withstand someone touching it, but could also be used to convey the fact that not only is the paper old and fragile, but so is his grandmother. In writing, a simile would say you are “like something” whereas a metaphor would say “you are something”. A metaphor states a fact or draws a verbal picture by the use of comparison without using the words “like” or “as”.

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In “The Road Not Taken”, Robert Frost uses a walk in the woods as a metaphor for making a decision in life, a situation that readers can easily identify with, therefore making it easier to imagine what they are reading. An implied metaphor is a metaphor that compares two things without being obvious. “There are no stars tonight, But those of memory” from Hart Crane’s, “My Grandmother’s Love Letters” is a good example of an implied metaphor.

Personification is a figure of speech in which human characteristics are given to an animal or an object and sometimes are difficult to catch in a poem if you are not paying attention as in Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”, where he uses the description of” the road wanting wear”. In the line “Loose girdle of soft rain”, from “My Grandmother’s Love Letters”, the rain is compared to a loose belt, which is a clear example of Personification and much easier to understand.

Creating imagery for the reader helps to entertain, provoke thought or help the reader escape to another reality. Sometimes it can even be silly such as the repetition of the same initial letter, sound, or group of sounds in a series of words. This usage of figurative language is called Alliteration and includes tongue twisters such as “She sells seashells by the seashore”. Many writers will use words that describe or imitate a natural sound or the sound made by an object to create imagery within the writing.

This is called Onomatopoeia, and although it is a big word that is hard to pronounce, it is the use of small words such as snap, crackle, pop, buzz and creaked that help bring a story or poem to life. Another form of imagery that is used quite often is Hyperbole. This is the use of statements that are so dramatic and exaggerated that a person would not believe the statement is true. “I was so hungry that not only did I eat my dinner, I ate the plate and silverware too. ” A synecdoche is a form of imagery that substitutes a whole object with one aspect of that object.

It may also be used to replace a specific object with something more generalized. In “My Last Duchess”, Robert Browning uses this form of figurative language when he admits to having his Duchess murdered. Instead of saying he killed her, he makes the statement that “all of her smiles have stopped”. Figurative language is important when writing poetry, but how the poem is structured and what the theme of the poem is can also add or detract from the imagery the writer is trying to create.

Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess” is a dramatic monologue pretending to be a conversation, written in iambic pentameter, divided up in pairs of rhymes known as Rhyme Couplets, and with lines that do not employ end-stops. Instead, the writer uses enjambment, which is when of one line of verse carries over to the next line without a pause such as: “Her husband’s presence only, called that spot Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps…” My personal opinion is that the use of enjambment makes it difficult for the reader to understand the ideas and imagery the writer is trying to convey.

The theme of this poem is of arrogance, selfishness and jealousy and is lacking any wonderful imagery that could pull the reader in. This is an example of how a structure and theme can make or break the poem. I did not enjoy this poem due to how difficult it was to read, understand and envision. Another part of the structure that sets a poem apart from others is whether there is a rhyming pattern to it or if it doesn’t have a pattern at all. “The Road Not Taken” is a lyric poem with four stanzas of five lines each.

A lyric poem is one that presents the feelings and emotions of the poet rather than telling a story such as the poem “My Last Duchess”. The structure of “The Road Not Taken” is a straight forward series of five line stanzas. Each stanza presents us with a single idea. The first sets up the metaphor which is then extended through the rest of the poem. I have found that I enjoy this structure and rhyming pattern making “The Road Not Taken” my favorite poem of the three that I read and chose to write about.

Everyone is different in their ability to understand the written word, with some people needing things simple and full of imagery that brings the poem to life. Other people prefer a more complex poem that is not filled with fanciful images, but makes them think and analyze what they are reading. No matter what your choice of structure, figurative language or imagery is, they are all necessary to create an interesting piece of written work. Due to people and thought processes being unique to each reader, this explains why there are so many different types of poems that evoke different emotions.

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Theory of Figurative Language. (2016, Sep 17). Retrieved from

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