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Essay on Poetic Devices


Like any other genre of literature, poetry employs different literary devices to enhance performance. Literary devices are techniques writers use to express their ideas and convey a more profound meaning beyond what appears on the page. Elizabeth Barret Browning uses these stylistic devices to express her ideas in the poem “How Do I Love Thee?” where she uses a bride as the persona to convey the theme of true love that can even transcend death. Another prominent poet is Pablo Neruda, who also writes about love in the poem “If You Forget Me,” where the persona says that he loves his beloved conditionally when he still loves him. The two poems have similar themes about love and employ similar poetic devices to communicate their message.

Author Biography

Elizabeth Barret Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) was an English poet born in Durham, England, into a wealthy family. Her father, Edward Barrett Moulton-Barrett, and her mother, Mary Graham-Clarke, was wealthy landowner. Elizabeth was the eldest of twelve children. Despite her affluent upbringing, Elizabeth Barrett suffered from ill health as a youngster and spent most of her time reading and writing (Stone 127). She started writing poems at a young age and published her first collection, “An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems,” when she was 14. Elizabeth’s health rapidly deteriorated in 1826, and she was confined to her bed for several years. She continued writing poems during this period and married Robert Browning, a poet. Her best-known work includes ”’Sonnets from the Portuguese,” which is a collection of love poems she wrote to her husband (Browning & Elizabeth 76). The Sonnet 49: How Do I Love You was published in 1850. Elizabeth later died in Italy in 1861.

Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was a Chilean poet, politician, and diplomat. He was the son of a teacher and a railway employee. Neruda began poetry writing at an early age and published his first work, “Crepusculario,” at the age of 13 years (Conway 279). During his career, he became an influential poet of the 20th century. He wrote political poetry, love poetry, and surrealist poetry. “Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair,” “The Heights of Macchu Picchu,” and “If You Forget Me” are some of his famous works. Neruda was also active in politics and served as a senator in the Chilean government and an ambassador to France. He received numerous honors, including the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971. Neruda died on 23rd September 1973 after a military coup.

Critical Lenses

A critical lens provides a particular way of looking at literature. Some of the most common critical lenses include the Marxist lens, psychoanalytic lens, feminist lens, gender studies, semiotics, moral, post-colonial, and ecocriticism. The feminist lens analyses the poem regarding gender and power dynamics in a relationship between a man and a woman (Beck et al. 171). The lens also explores a woman’s role in a relationship and its relation with the gender norms of society. The psychoanalytic lens analyses the poems regarding motivation, unconscious desires, and fears.

The Marxist lens is sometimes referred to as the socioeconomic lens. The lens analyzes the poem regarding economic and social class dynamics and how they affect work and relationships (Terlop 283). The moral lens is one of the earliest lenses used to analyze the morals or instructions to society through the poem. Entertainment may be secondary in this kind of lens in a poem.

Poetic Devices

The poems ‘How Do I Love Thee’ and ‘If You Forget Me’ employ different poetic devices to enhance the poems’ literal meaning. The two poems have two themes, but the poets use common literal devices to achieve their goal and communicate their message to their target audience. Literary devices, such as rhythm and sound, draw the reader’s attention and add figurative meaning to the words. Poetic devices can be applied in the form of a poem, diction, or conveying the poem’s meaning.

Alliteration is a prominent stylistic feature in the poems (Saeed et al. 461). In the poems, the poet uses consonant sounds at the beginning of words that are close together. A similar consonant sound is repeated in the words ‘love’ and ‘let’ in the first sentence of the poem How Do I Love Thee. The words ‘lost’ and ‘love’ in line twelve share a similar sound technique. In ‘If You Forget Me,’ alliteration is used in the words ‘little’ and ‘loving’ in the second line of the third stanza. This poetic device is also used in the sixth line of the fifth stanza in the words ‘heart’ and ‘have.’

Assonance is another poetic device affecting the diction of the poem. Assonance is the repetition of similar vowel sounds in close proximity in a sentence (Saeed et al. 458). The poems ‘How Do I Love Thee’ and ‘If You Forget Me’ extensively use assonance to enhance the poem’s rhythm. In the former, similar vowel sounds are utilized in words ‘thee‘ and ‘me‘ in the first sentence. In the later, the sound /a/ is used in words ‘impalpable’ and ‘ash’ in the seventh line of the second stanza. The /o/ sound is also repeated in the first line of the same stanza in words, ‘You know how .’Consonance is also another sound device employed by the two poets to communicate their message (Sharma 13). Similar consonant sounds are repeated in the words ‘depth’ and ‘breadth‘ in the second line of ‘How Do I Love Thee .’Consonance is also used in ‘…that wait’ in the last line of the second stanza of the ‘If You Forget Me.’

The poets have used imagery to induce the readers to perceive things using all five senses. Pablo Neruda uses imagery throughout the poem, such as “I shall lift my arms,” “the wind of banners,” and “my love feeds on your love, beloved .”The words by Pablo Neruda create an image in our mind to illustrate how the persona feels for his beloved. Elizabeth Barret, in the second line of ‘How Do I Love Thee,’ says “, days most quiet need by sun and candlelight.” The bride uses this imagery to describe her love for the bridegroom. She also uses imagery in the second line to describe the extent of her love and emotions toward the bride.

Repetition is used well in the poems by Elizabeth Barret and Pablo Neruda. Repetition can be easily identified in both poems. This literary device is used to emphasize or stress a particular massage being passed across by the poet (Askarovich 4). In the poem ‘How Do I Love Thee’, the words ‘I love thee…’ have been repeated throughout the poem at the beginning of lines. This repetition emphasizes the main message of the poem, which is love. The poet can also use such kind of repetition to draw the attention of the reader. Pablo Neruda also repeatedly uses the phrase “I shall” in the poem to achieve a similar purpose as Elizabeth Barret.

Poets use rhetoric questions to achieve their different goals. Rhetorical questions do not need an answer, but they probe the reader to think deeper about the subject matter (Hall 356). Elizabeth Barret, in ‘How Do I Love Thee,’ uses a rhetorical question in the first line, “How do I love thee?” and proceeds to answer the question in the preceding lines of the sonnet. The such question triggers the reader’s emotions and compels him or her to think deeper about the subject being talked about. Pablo Neruda also uses a rhetorical question in the second stanza’s first line when he asks, “You know how this is.”

Elizabeth Barret uses a rhyme in writing the sonnet. She uses a traditional rhyme scheme of abbaabbacdcdcd. The rhyme scheme is irregularly regular. A regular rhyme scheme brings musicality to the poem. Musicality helps attract the reader’s attention and make the poem enjoyable (Lea et al.2021). The ultimate effect of musicality is enhanced memory of the poem.

Poets also use different forms as poetic devices. Elizabeth Barret and Pablo Neruda use different forms to write different poems. Pablo Neruda uses free verse form, eliminating the need for a formal rhyme. This allows the poet to shape the poem with a greater canvas. Pablo Neruda writes incomplete lines and continues them in the following line of the poem. On the other hand, Elizabeth Barret uses a fixed verse form in the sonnet ‘How Do I Love Thee .’A sonnet has one stanza with 14 lines (Burt & David 3). The sonnet has a formal rhyme.

Metaphors are used in literature as a literary device where a comparison is made between two objects (Littlemore 11). At the end of the fifth stanza of ‘If You Forget Me,’ the persona says, “my roots will set off to seek another land.” The poet employs the metaphor of roots to represent his feelings and love, which are rooted or entrenched in his heart. Elizabeth Barret also uses metaphors in the poem to compare two different things unrelated in nature. The sixth line,’ by sun and candlelight,’ is a metaphor for the passage of time and the progression of one’s life. Love fills the speaker’s days and keeps her moving in life.

Personification is another literal device poets use to give inanimate objects animate characters such as emotions (Melion & Bart 1). In ‘If You Forget Me,’ Pablo Neruda personifies love by giving it the character to feed when he writes,” My love feeds on your love,” in the eleventh line of the last stanza. He also personifies the flower when he gives it the character to climb in the seventh line of the same stanza. Elizabeth Barret also uses personification in the third line when he says, “My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight.” The persona says that even when she cannot physically touch him, her soul will still reach the bridegroom.

Symbolism is a widely used literal device where symbols represent or signify ideas and qualities. The symbols are given a meaning different from the literal (Kawahara 2). Pablo Neruda uses symbols such as the ash, the moon, and the window to express his love for his beloved. Elizabeth Barret uses symbolism in the sixth line, ‘…, by sun and candlelight’. Light symbolizes that the persona is illuminated by love. This also symbolizes that the persona loves the bridegroom both during the day and night.


The theme of love is expressed in different ways through the two poems by Elizabeth and Neruda. Different lenses, such as the Marxist lens, psychoanalytic lens, and feminist lens, can be used to analyze a poem in different aspects. The poems are rich in literary devices such as alliteration, repetition, symbolism, and personification. The various poetic devices enhance the performance and communication of the message while entertaining the readers.

Works Cited

Askarovich, Haydarov Anvar. “Phonostylistic Repetition.” Indonesian Journal of Innovation Studies 18 (2022).

Beck, Makini, et al. “Critical feminist analysis of STEM mentoring programs: A meta‐synthesis of the existing literature.” Gender, Work & Organization 29.1 (2022): 167-187.

Browning, Robert, and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett. Love Letters between Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett. DigiCat, 2022.

Burt, Stephen, and David Mikics. The art of the sonnet. Harvard University Press, 2010.

Conway, Christopher. “The Revolutionary Poetics of Pablo Neruda.” A Contracorriente: una revista de estudios latinoamericanos 6.1 (2008): 277-282.

Hall, Edith. “Some Functions of Rhetorical Questions in Lysias’ Forensic Orations.” Trends in Classics 14.2 (2022): 349-373.

Kawahara, Shigeto. “Sound symbolism and theoretical phonology.” Language and Linguistics Compass 14.8 (2020): e12372.

Lea, R. Brooke, Andrew Elfenbein, and David N. Rapp. “Rhyme as resonance in poetry comprehension: An expert–novice study.” Memory & Cognition 49.7 (2021): 1285-1299.

Littlemore, Jeannette. Metaphors in the mind. Cambridge University Press, 2019.

Melion, Walter S., and Bart Ramakers. “Personification: An Introduction.” Personification. Brill, 2016. 1-40.

Saeed, Amna, Aadil Ahmed, and Rabia Saeed. “Poetry in Style: A Stylistic Analysis of Rizwan Akhtar’s Poems.” Multicultural Education 7.5 (2021).

Sharma, L. R. (2019). What to consider while executing stylistic analysis of a poem. American Research Journal of Humanities Social Science2(1), 11-20.

Stone, Marjorie. “Two-Way Mirror: The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning by Fiona Sampson.” Victorian Review 48.1 (2022): 125-128.

Terlop, Rachel. “The Dark Knight Rises: a Marxist–feminist cinematic revelation, not yet a revolution.” Critique 50.1 (2022): 283-286.


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