Imagery is the use of vivid or figurative language to represent objects, actions, or ideas. You use imagery all the time in every day language when you say things like “quiet as a mouse,” or “dumb as a box of rocks.”
Here are examples of imagery in poetry from William Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.”
Example: “A host of golden daffodils; / Beside the lake, beneath the trees, / Fluttering and dancing in the breeze. (4-6)
Analysis: There aren’t several daffodils; there aren’t a lot of daffodils; there aren’t many daffodils. There’s a freaking host of ‘em. There are so many, in fact, that there beside the lake and beneath the trees. Wordsworth then employs personification, describing daffodils “fluttering and dancing in the breeze.” A few lines down he recollects that the daffodils were engaged in a “sprightly dance.” I’m excited by this image. Heck, I want to throw a daffodil party right now. You’re invited.
Example: “Continuous as the stars that shine / And twinkle on the milky way, / They stretched in never-ending line / Along the margin of a bay.” (7-10).
Analysis: Wordsworth uses a simile in line 7 to connect the daffodils to the Universe; in other words, Wordsworth is claiming that becoming one with nature is equivalent to becoming one with the Universe or with God.
Simply identifying examples of imagery is not enough. One must interpret the image and explain its effect on the poem as a whole, which we have done in the analysis sections. For more on how to analyze a poem, follow the link.
Those who are able to take specific lines from literature and relate them to the entire work develop critical thinking skills that will serve them for a life time. Those who can use imagery to communicate their ideas more clearly advance on the path of becoming a master of words.
More Examples of Imagery in Poetry
The following examples are from “The Eagle” by Lord Alfred Tennyson:
Example: “He clasps the crag with crooked hands.” (1).
Analysis: The hard consonant sounds combined with images of crags and crooked hands set up the desolateness of nature and its cruelty.
Example: “The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls; / He watches from his mountain walls.” (4-5).
Analysis: Tennyson provides the image of a predatory bird scouring the sea for prey.
Example: “And like a thunderbolt he falls.” (6).
Analysis: Tennyson employs a simile, comparing the eagle’s descent to a thunderbolt. It hints at the suddenness at which life can end.
The following examples of imagery come from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.”
Example: “Each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.” (7).
Analysis: Embers are personified as dying. The reader is treated to the image of living objects becoming ghosts, a foreshadowing of the narrator’s fate.
Example: “And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon that is dreaming.” (105).
Analysis: The connection between the raven and pure evil is made through the image of its demon eyes.
For Further Study
The following list of poems will help you learn about imagery in poetry:
- “The Love Song of J. Alfred Proofrock” by T.S. Eliot
- “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns
- “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost
- Anything by Keats, Shelley, Byron, Blake, or Wordsworth
- Anything by Frost
- “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams
- “In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound
- “Eulogy for a Hermit Crab” by Pattiann Rogers
This post is part of the series: Analyzing the Elements of Poetry
Impress your friends and teachers with your knowledge of poetry.