What Is Another Term For Descriptive Language In Poetry

Exploring Descriptive Language

The craft of writing poetry requires an ability to use meaningful language to describe the intended emotion or subject matter. This technique known as description poetry is used to capture and share feelings, evoke images in the mind, and articulate ideas. Any words used in the poem whether it be nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. can help to create this descriptive language. In certain cases, authors may use additional terms or ‘cluster of words’ such as metaphors, allusions, personification to help express the subtleties of the poem.

Metaphors are one way that poems capture emotion as they compare two unlike things together creating an imaginary link between them that helps to paint a vivid image in the reader’s mind. For example, Maya Angelou wrote in her poem ‘Still I Rise’:
“You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”
The comparison of the speaker to dust illustrates her determination and will to keep rising regardless of the struggles facing her in life.

Meanwhile, allusion is another term for descriptive language in poetry. This technique is used to suggest a comparison or a deeper meaning to a reference to a famous object, person, event, etc. In T.S. Eliot’s poem ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, he includes an allusion to the Bible by writing:
“I have heard the mermaids singing,
Each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me”
The allusion to mermaids as seen in the Bible create a comparison between the speaker’s isolation from other people and how the creatures themselves are unable to live on land.

Personification is also commonly used in poetry to help elicit an emotional response from the reader. The speaker of the poem gives characteristics of a real person to an object, concept, or idea in a way that allows readers to create a visual image in their mind. William Wordsworth’s poem ‘I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud’ demonstrates this technique by writing:
“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”
The use of personification in this poem is significant as Wordsworth is describing himself as a cloud, an image which allows readers to appreciate how small and insignificant he feels in comparison to nature.


An important concept for writers of poetic composition, metaphor refers to the comparison of two unlike things to help create a deeper meaning or thought in the readers. In some cases, the metaphor extends further than the poem itself to create a greater understanding of the speaker’s message. For example, in Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’, he writes “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women mere players”. In this metaphor, Shakespeare is creating a comparison between life and a theatrical theatre that in essence says that acting is a part of life, and it is taken to the extreme and explained further in later lines.

In the field of psychology, metaphors are seen as tools to help explain complex and difficult situations or emotions. Carl Jung’s psychoanalytical work constantly uses metaphors to explain the human experience. In his work ‘The Undiscovered Self’, Jung tries to explain the feeling of alienation in modern society by writing “human beings are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep”. Similarly, in ‘The Red Book’, he uses the example of a snake to describe fear and how one can only overcome it by truly understanding it.

Metaphors are also used in literature to critique society, its norms, and values. George Orwell’s novel ‘Animal Farm’ is an example of this technique. Through the metaphor of animals representing the different classes of society, Orwell was able to highlight how ambition can lead to downfall and the need for collaboration between classes to change oppressive structures. In doing so, he was able to criticize his own society in a way that stirred discussion and debate.

Metaphors are such a powerful tool of expression because they are able to connect two ideas or subjects together and create a powerful thought or feeling. It is this ability of metaphors to convey difficult concepts and emotions that have made it such a popular and significant tool used in descriptive language in poetry.


Allusions are similar to metaphors but differ in that they refer to a known concept or object rather than an unknown one. This technique is used to give the reader a greater depth of understanding for the poem and its message by referring to a concept with which the reader is familiar. In ‘The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock’, T.S. Eliot includes an allusion to the bible by writing:
“I have heard the mermaids singing,
Each to each.
I do not think they will sing to me.”
By referring to the bible, Eliot suggests a comparison between the speaker’s isolation and the mythical creatures of the sea.

Additionally, authors may use allusions to historic or mythical figures to give greater elucidation to the message of the poem. Shakespeare regularly used allusions through his characters to describe their character traits or the situation their faced. In ‘Romeo and Juliet’, Romeo’s early dialogue includes an allusion to Tristan and Isolde, two characters of a medieval love story, to highlight his love-sickness and eventual descent into despair.

Authors may also use allusions to inculpate certain ideas, values, and ideals within their poems that can be seen in the ‘American Dream’ poem by Langston Hughes. Within this poem, Hughes includes an allusion to religion and writes the metaphor “God’s richest smile of all” to emphasize the importance of achieving success and realising the dream of achieving greatness and happiness in America.

Allusions help to deepen the meaning behind the poem and to create vivid images in the reader’s mind. Through references to well-known stories or characters and places, authors can help convey the themes and messages of their poem in a way that engages the reader and adds a greater resonance to the poem itself.


Personification is another way that poets create images and ideas within the poem. This technique assigns characteristics of living things to non-living objects in order to give them characteristics similar to humans. William Wordsworth’s poem ‘I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud’ is an example of personification in poetry and he writes:
“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”
Here, Wordsworth is giving the object of the cloud human qualities such as loneliness and even comparing himself to the cloud to create an image of how insignificant the speaker feels compared to the nature surrounding them.

Perhaps the best example of personification can be found in the works of Dr. Seuss, in which he often gave objects or animals human qualities. One example of this can be found in his book ‘I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew’ in which he writes:
“I pestered poor Mr. Grape
I shoved and I shoved
But still he stood there
No matter how much I shoved”
The use of personification here helps to create a real image of the character’s perseverance and effort in trying to move Mr. Grape and is effective in eliciting an emotional response from the reader.

Personification can be used in creative writing to give objects and characters greater depth and emotion, as well as helping to provide an imagery for the reader that conveys the subtleties of the poem. This technique is an invaluable tool when it comes to descriptive writing and has been used for centuries in different forms of art.


When writing a poem, it is important for authors to find the words to effectively express their intention. There are certain terms and techniques authors can use to create effective and powerful descriptions within their poem. Metaphors, allusions, and personification are examples of terms used to create descriptive language in poetry. Metaphors help to create an imagined reality, allusions refer to a known concept or object, and personification assigns characteristics of living beings to inanimate objects. Through the use of these techniques, authors are able to vividly evoke emotions in the readers and have been used for centuries to create powerful works of art.

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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