How do poetic techniques (or sound devices) emphasise the poet's message?

In this answer, I shall explain how poetic techniques emphasize the poet's message and how to explain this in your essays. This answer will focus on why poets use these devices, rather than a list of poetic devices and how to spot them.


When writing an essay on poetry, it is vital that instead of simply pointing out the poetic techniques the poet has used, that you explain HOW these affect the poet's message. This is particularly important for exams in which the poems are 'seen' poems, rather than 'unseen' poems.


Students do need to do the same thing when writing an essay on ‘unseen’ poems, and I would be happy to explain to any students who wished me to tutor them how to do this. However, in this answer I shall focus on preparing ‘seen’ poems.


When preparing for an exam that includes 'seen' poetry, it is wise to take a methodical approach. First, you should consider the theme of the poem you are studying. For the sake of example, let’s say you are studying poetry that explores relationships. Within these poems common themes you may encounter could include love, intimacy, trust- or conversely, the feeling of loss.


The poem ‘Ghazal’ by Mimi Khalvati is based on a relationship, and was part of the GCSE Anthology ‘Moon on the Tides’. The word ‘Ghazal’ is actually a name for a particular type of poem that typically explores the pain associated with love, yet still celebrates the beauty of love. Thus we can expect the themes in this poem to be both loss and an ode to love.


Within the poem Khalvati utilises alliteration, for example “you are the breeze, blow through me”. Notice the ‘b’ is the subject of alliteration. ‘B’ is a plosive sound, meaning that in order for the mouth to sound this sound, air must first be blocked to a part of the mouth creating pressure. When this pressure is released and air is allowed to pass through the mouth again, the sound is produced. Here we have identified two poetic devices, and now we shall consider their effect upon the poem’s meaning.


Consider why using alliteration and a plosive sound might emphasize the theme of love within the poem. Well, we know the theme of this poem is both the beauty of love and the pain it causes. Perhaps then Khalvati uses plosive sounds to represent the sense of separation between the two lovers. The stop of air in the reader’s mouth perfectly represents the imperfect union Khalvati mourns within the poem. The alliteration perhaps represents Khlavati’s plea for her lover to “pursue me”, and the two ‘b’ sounds occur in quick succession, as if the sounds are in a chase.


In the above example, you should notice how I have linked the techniques to their explanations, rather than focusing on the explanation itself. See that I have tried to think of how the technique may mimic the theme of the poem. I have tried to think of how the two words beginning with ‘b’ placed next to each other may represent the feeling of romantic pursuit.


You can use this method for every poem and sound technique you may come across. In a war poem you may want to reflect on how a plosive sound would affect the reader differently than it does in a romantic poem. In a war poem the plosive sound would also serve well to reflect death, or perhaps the feeling of fear. More obviously, the plosive sounds may mimic the sound of bullets or bombs, or perhaps even the feeling of shell shock after an explosion.


I use another particular technique that I developed during my own GCSE’s that makes learning these explanations easy, and organizes them onto one piece of paper per poem. I have tested out this technique with a GCSE class at the school I used to attend, during a teacher experience day that I took part in. The teacher who supervised my lesson was so impressed with this technique that she now gives out a template of it to her GCSE pupils to fill in themselves. I would be happy to share this technique with any students who wish me to tutor them. 

Anastasia  R. GCSE English tutor, A Level English Literature tutor, 1...

1 year ago

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