Some Literary Devices
Appearing in Song Lyrics


WB01062_1.GIF (249 bytes)   imagery

specific word-"pictures" for any of the senses ("a tall cedar tree," "sweet honey," "cool water," "flaming embers," "blistered feet," "smoking ruins," "a strong wind," "a dizzying height")

WB01062_1.GIF (249 bytes)   simile

a strong comparison using a connecting word such as like or as ("an army like a flood approaching ," "a girl as nimble as a deer")

WB01062_1.GIF (249 bytes)   metaphor

identification of one thing as, or in terms of, a very different thing (old age identified as "the evening of life," or a person identified as "a rose" or "an oak")--without use of like or as

WB01062_1.GIF (249 bytes)   synecdoche

reference to a part of something to represent the whole, or vice versa ("the hands of the enemy shall conquer the land," "the people bend their knees to the king," "the chariot-wheels surrounded the city")

WB01062_1.GIF (249 bytes)   metonymy

reference to something by naming a merely associated thing (for example, referring to a military force by calling it "the sword," to a government by calling it "the law," or to journalists by calling them "the press")

WB01062_1.GIF (249 bytes)   personification

attribution of human qualities or capacities to non-human objects or to abstractions ("the willow tree weeps," "the stream murmurs," "the land tells a tale," "justice cries out," "mercy argues the case of the oppressed," "common sense must step forward")

WB01062_1.GIF (249 bytes)   parallelism

repetition, contradiction, or expansion of a given thought in a pair or series of similar lines ("I will meditate on the Lord, and my thoughts shall be continually of Him"; "The wicked may prosper for a time, but their doom is sure")

WB01062_1.GIF (249 bytes)   symbol

an object, condition, or action that represents something else, especially an abstraction, within a certain context (For example, a blush may represent embarrassment or shame, a kiss may represent love, shabby clothes may represent poverty, a flying bird may represent freedom--but in other contexts, they may represent other things or be virtually nonsymbolic. The color green may in one context represent new life and in another represent jealousy; Judasís kiss is an ironic, or reversed, symbol representing unfaithfulness or lack of love.)

WB01062_1.GIF (249 bytes)   hyperbole

exaggeration, overstatement ("I could eat a horse," "My eyes popped right out of my head," "The light took forever to turn green," "There wasn't enough grain in the barn to feed a sparrow")

WB01062_1.GIF (249 bytes)   litotes

a type of understatement whereby an idea of size or extent is expressed (1) by negating its opposite ("That's no small decision to make," "The pay wasn't bad at all") or (2) by using language obviously insufficient to do justice to the referent ("Jesus was quite capable of defending himself," "Cats had a good run on Broadway," "lightning played between sea and sky")

WB01062_1.GIF (249 bytes)   assonance

repetition of vowel sounds in syllables near enough to each other to make it noticeable and potentially significant ("All the air things wear that build this world of Wales," a line from Gerard Manley Hopkins's poem "In the Valley of the Elwy," displays such repetition in the vowel sounds of the words air and wear--and possibly in the word Wales.  "Complete thy creature dear O where it fails," another line from that poem, displays assonance in the long e sounds of the words Complete, creature, and dear.)

WB01062_1.GIF (249 bytes)   consonance

repetition of consonant sounds (particularly after a stressed vowel) in syllables near enough to each other to make it noticeable and potentially significant (examples: stark and stork, in which all of the consonants "rhyme"; kick and sock, in which the -ck sounds "rhyme"; flint and bent; case and remorse)

WB01062_1.GIF (249 bytes)   alliteration

repetition of initial sounds of stressed syllables near enough to each other to make it noticeable and potentially significant (examples: the initial w sounds of the words wear, world, and Wales in the line "All the air things wear that build this world of Wales"; the initial m and f sounds in the Hopkins line "Being mighty a master, being a father and fond"; the initial o sounds in the line [not from Hopkins] "old Olmec ornaments were the only offense"); sometimes "eye" repetition of initial letters, even if the sounds don't match ("active anticipation's arresting agency"); most often used to identify separate words beginning with the same sound(s), which may be vowels and/or consonants

WB01062_1.GIF (249 bytes)   end rhyme

repetition of terminal sound(s) of words at the ends of two or more poetic lines (Frost example: "Whose woods these are I think I know. / His house is in the village, though")

WB01062_1.GIF (249 bytes)   internal rhyme

repetition of terminal sound(s) of words within a poetic line (Poe example: "Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary")

WB01062_1.GIF (249 bytes)   exact rhyme

the loud "echo" created by words having correspondent sounds and stresses (threw, blue; painful, gainful; watched, botched; dispensation, compensation)

WB01062_1.GIF (249 bytes)   imperfect rhyme

a "faint" or "suggested" rhyme, usually at ends of lines, that is carried by some small vowel or consonant sound(s) shared by two or more words where rhyme might be expected; variously known as slant, near, half, and approximate rhyme (examples: remark, impart; low, law; years, yours; diving, lightning; feed, blade)

WB01062_1.GIF (249 bytes)   persona

the speaker or "speaking voice" in a poem or any part of a poem; the author's more or less "masked" or inflected voice, analogous in many cases to the narrator's in a short story or novel; sometimes an "unreliable" voice completely at odds with the author's apparent worldview or expressly preferred attitude toward something (thus establishing an irony that may suggest some theme of the work); a speaking entity distinct from the author much as a character in a play is distinct from the actor.  For further understanding of the term persona, see a specialized dictionary of poetry such as the New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics; and see scholarly narratological distinctions between real author, implied author, narrator, and characters.

WB01062_1.GIF (249 bytes)   addressee

the primary (first and most directly addressed) audience for the poem's persona (speaker); a figure analogous to the narratee in a short story or novel, a presence who may or may not be named in the work and who may or may not be an overt participant in the plot or the occasion but who is at least made evident as an "invisible entity" engaging the attention and receiving the utterances of the narrator/persona

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©Nathan H. Nelson, 1996-2000.  All rights reserved.