Poetry 101: Imagery

Poetic License

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Defining Imagery

Many people don’t consider a poem a poem unless it uses imagery. But what is imagery?

Imagery is the name given to the elements in a poem that spark off the senses. Any of the five senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell) can be used. The more concrete the details, the more imagistic it is. So while “She is beautiful” isn’t imagery, “Her hair was the color of polished bronze and her eyes gleamed like amber” would be.

Synesthesia gives many of poetry’s most memorable images because they cannot be taken literally but communicate profoundly nevertheless. This is when the five senses are used, but are either crossed with one another (e.g., “Her voice sounded like a sunset”) or used to describe emotions as if they were accessible with the five external senses (e.g., “It tasted like brittle hope”).

Give it a go!

Describe a tree using rich imagery:


Describe a lake:


Describe a person:


Describe an emotion:


Those of you who have already completed the metaphor challenge may have realized that imagery naturally reaches out for metaphor, and metaphors are enriched by the powerful use of imagery. These two are so closely linked to poetry as a genre that some modern definitions of poetry rely specifically on metaphor and rich imagery rather than rhythmic or lyric elements.

Move on to the memorization lesson.

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