Another part about poetry I just adore: imagery.
According to the sixth edition “Sound and Sense” I have, imagery is “representation through language of sense experience.” So, the word itself might be something of a misnomer, as it includes sensory descriptions other than the visual. Nevertheless, we shall continue to use it with this understanding.
I think this is a “show, not tell” situation of a different sort than what we usually mean here.
A Narrow Fellow In The Grass
“A narrow fellow in the grass
Occasionally rides -
You may have met him? Did you not
His notice instant is -
The grass divides as with a comb,
A spotted shaft is seen,
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on -
He likes a boggy acre -
A floor too cool for corn -
But when a boy and barefoot
I more than once at noon
Have passed I thought a whip lash
Unbraiding in the sun
When stooping to secure it
It wrinkled and was gone -
Several of nature’s people
I know, and they know me
I feel for them a transport
But never met this Fellow
Attended or alone
Without a tighter breathing
And zero at the bone.”
- Emily Dickinson
Apart from being a loquacious way of saying she was rather put off by snakes, every stanza except for the fifth contains multiple instances of imagery, all of which together gives you a sense of what she felt coming across them.
“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,–
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.”
Yeah, not sure what I thought I was going to follow that up with. What was I even talking about? XP
Here you get such rich imagery and I think the way it contributes to the mood of the piece speaks for itself. But back to marveling at how prettily-done that is…
Tips for Usage-
-You can convey meaning simply though juxtaposition of images. This is, in fact, a major component of haiku, but it can be surprisingly hard to do well.
-No rule says you can’t have your imagery fill other roles within the work (like symbolism or metaphor), but try not to overdo it (people might not like being beaten over the head with it), and it needn’t be obvious unless that’s the entire point.
-Beware the clichés, for your critics will leave you rent and tattered in the wastes.
-There is no correct amount of imagery to employ. Experiment and figure out what’s right for your work.
-I find that imagery is one of the most useful tools for establishing mood.
Read poetry. Write poetry. But pay special attention to whatever images (by which we mean, sensory info) you find in what verse you read, and in what you write.