What Do Slashes Mean In Poetry

What do Slashes Mean in Poetry

With poetry being an art of expression, it strives to portray the raw emotions of its author without the constraints of language and grammar. Slashes are one of the many tools used to convey such messages more successfully. They are symbols used for emphasizing the meaning of words and phrases in a poetic context.
Slashes have a very distinct visual appearance and purpose. Specifically, a slash goes between two different words or phrases that are used to describe the same thing. This technique of using multiple interpretations of a word or phrase to create a more emotional or powerful impact on the reader is often seen in poetry. It is used to communicate different interpretations of something, a concept or an idea in order to broaden the breadth of poetic understanding.
The use of slashes dates back to the classical poetry of Ancient Greece and Rome. In these classic texts, poets used the slash in order to capture the true emotion and meaning of their words. It was also used to create lyrical emphasis and to draw attention to certain words. It was seen as a way to move away from literal interpretations of language and instead enhance language with deeper meaning.
Modern poetry, particularly spoken word, has adopted the use of the slash as its own. Slashes are often used in spoken word to signify breath. For example, a slash may be used in between words to create emphasis or mark a pause for breath. This is an incredibly effective way of delivering a performance that professional poets use a lot.
In addition to this, slashes are used frequently in modern poetry to imply tension or an emotional nuance between two concepts. It allows writers to express a thought in two or more ways which adds a layer of sophistication to the piece. By joining two phrases together with a slash, the juxtaposition of ideas creates complexity, communicates the hidden meaning of the poem, and engages the reader on a deeper level.
For example, a classic example of this technique is seen in the poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost:
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Here, the slash is used to contrast the two roads and their respective qualities, one that was grassy and one that was wanted wear. It creates a juxtaposition of two different scenarios or ideas that allows the reader to really consider the poem and how the two roads differ.

What is the Significance of Slashes in a Poem?

The use of slashes in poetry is incredibly important. It adds an extra layer to communication and allows the author to take the poem to a whole new level of expression. Without this tool, the poem would be lacking an emotional or intellectual element. Slashes are used to separate two concepts or objects to imply a conflict between them or a sense of intricate connection. It is a tool that allows the poet to introduce many interpretations of a concept that may be subtle to the general reader but have immense significance to the ones truly understanding the poem.
An example of this can be seen in Margaret Atwood’s “Variations on the Word Sleep”. Here, the slashes are used to convey the relationship between life and death, where death is a part of life, but is also the antithesis of it.

I would like to watch you sleeping,
which may not happen.
I would like to watch you,
sleeping. I would like to sleep
with you, to enter
your sleep as its smooth dark wave
slides over my head
and walk with you through that lucent
wavering forest of bluegreen Leaves
of love, that floats
forever in a foreign Country.
I would like to watch you
sleeping. I would like to watch you,

sleeping, dreaming.
Dreaming of a languid, doorless land,
where lost travelers intersect
each night, like lines of longitude
and latitude/crossing in dreams.

In this poem, Atwood is able to describe both the beauty of life and death by separating the concepts with the use of slashes. This juxtaposition of ideas is crucial to understanding the entire poem, as interesting interpretations are produced by the writer that the readers would have missed if it weren’t for the slashes.

Are there other uses for slashes in Poetry?

Apart from providing layers of complexity and discord in the poem, slashes can also be used to provide rhetorical flair. For example, they can be used to emphasize sounds and mark a break in a line of poetry. This technique allows writers to focus on the aesthetics and structure of a poem, as well as signify an intentional break to start a new poem – making the flow of the poem more discernable.
It is also used to signify a new beat. Slashes can add a sense of rhythm and pacing to words by breaking them up into sounds. This can create a more rhythmic and melodic performance, making it easier to recite a poem.
These uses highlight the versatility of the slash as it can be used both in its traditional context and in other contexts to create a more lyrical work.

Can the Meaning of Slashes be Interpreted Differently?

Due to the versatile nature of the use of slashes in poetry, the meaning of a slash can be interpreted differently depending on its context. For example, it can be seen as a divide between two thoughts, two ideas, or two voices. The slash is used frequently to show a disconnect between ideas, a conflict of opinion, or a struggle with emotion.
Slashes can also be used to separate two contradictory statements, creating an irony or even a sense of humor in the poem. This is seen in the poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot:

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)

My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simplepin—

(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)

In this excerpt, Eliot is using the slash to show the irony in his statement. He is asking “Do I dare?” twice and the slash signifies the time spent between the two questions. By using the slash, he points out his hesitation in making a decision and creating a more vivid understanding for the reader.

What is the Significance of Slashes for Poetry?

Slashes are an important part of poetry and have been used for centuries to add depth, emotion and beauty to prose. They are a powerful tool for writers as they allow them to explore a wide range of interpretations and nuances. They can be used to create intrigue and insight as well as create more complex thoughts and imagery.
Slashes are also incredibly versatile, as they can be used to create a break in the poem, highlight a pause for emotion or signify a specific word. Their use has evolved over the centuries and is embedded in poetry today. It is a device that is used by professional writers and poets to further enrich the meaning of a poem and engage the reader.

How are Slashes used to Evoke Emotion?

The slash is a tool that is used to evoke emotion in the reader is by breaking up a line of poetry. By breaking up the words into sections, the poet is able to convey more of the emotion and intensity of their words with pauses, emphasis, and intonation.
For example, Pablo Neruda’s “Vecino de la Montaña” is a poem that focuses on life in the mountains and the beauty of nature.

Nada me da soledad profunda
Como una tarde en la montaña./
Vueltas de la montaña/
Enmudecemos haciendo noche
Y canto delnorte sereno
Viene bajando entre la niebla
A saludar a la verdura/
Y a mí mismo a estar quieto.

In this poem, Neruda uses the slash to signify a pause as the scene changes. He uses the pause between the slash and the following phrase to draw attention to that phrase – in this case, the transition to the evening. This creates a moment of admiration and awe, allowing the reader to appreciate the beauty of the moment and feel the emotion the poet was trying to communicate.

How Do Slashes Enhance Poetic Flow?

Slashes are also used to enhance the flow of the poem. They can be used to link separate thoughts and ideas together, creating a seamless transition between them. This allows the poet to move the poem along without interruption and keep the reader engaged.
For example, in the poem “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver, Oliver uses slashes to create a sense of connection between the lines:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees/for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body/love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine./
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,/the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,/are heading home again.

The slashes link the two ideas together as they transition fluidly from one thought to the next. It creates an ongoing dialogue between the narrator and the reader, keeping them engaged in the poem.


Slashes are an integral part of poetry, and they are used in many ways to add emotional impact, complexity, and intricacy to the poem. They are used to create juxtaposition and contrast between two words or phrases, as well as to signify a pause or breath. They can be used to provide a sense of rhythm and add rhetorical flair to the poem. Slashes are also used to evoke emotion in the reader and enhance the flow of the poem. All of these uses of the slash demonstrate its importance in poetry and how it can be used as a tool to create greater depth and insight in discourse.

Dannah Hannah is an established poet and author who loves to write about the beauty and power of poetry. She has published several collections of her own works, as well as articles and reviews on poets she admires. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a specialization in poetics, from the University of Toronto. Hannah was also a panelist for the 2017 Futurepoem book Poetry + Social Justice, which aimed to bring attention to activism through poetry. She lives in Toronto, Canada, where she continues to write and explore the depths of poetry and its influence on our lives.

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