Furry Writers' Guild Forum

Session #4: Imagery

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
Of cordiality

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.

Another example:

To Autumn

“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.”

-John Keats

mic drop

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.

Recommended Exercises-

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.

“Falling” by Laura Govednik

I’m not falling in love with your words or your voice.
I’m not falling in love with your smile or your eyes.
I’m not falling in love with your caresses or your kisses.
I’m not falling in love with your mind or your heart.
I already told you that I wouldn’t I couldn’t
Because I’m already in over my head
Drowning spinning out of control
Head over heels and upside down

And I couldn’t be happier
Did you fall with me?
Did you land with me?
Are you just as deeply in love with me?
As I’ve found unexpectedly
I am with you?

I guess it’s a little silly to quote an entire poem for three lines, but damned if I’m not happy with it :stuck_out_tongue:

“Courage” by Laura Govednik

Her cheeks are burning red
Her eyes are filled with tears
Try as she may to stop them
Her hands tremble with fear
Dark circles hint at nights
That seemed to last forever
Plagued with nightmares and memories
Of her abusive lover
While standing in the rain
She’s a pathetic sight
To any passerby
On this cold dark night
With her suitcase in one arm
And her baby in the other
She doesn’t seem to be
A very good mother
Yet she refuses to back down
From the source of her pain
Telling him she’s leaving
On the next hour’s train
Who would have ever thought
This shadow of a girl
Could poses more courage
Than most people in the world

I really, REALLY want to find the motivation to rewrite this one x.x It’s six years old and holy crap I know I can do better. A good show of attempted imagery with way too much “telling” thrown in.

I actually found this one really hard to get my head round. I don’t think I’ve ever discussed imagery in poetry before, yet surely it’s the very backbone of poetry? I think the problem is that I’ve got so used to thinking ‘this is alliteration, this is simile’ and so on, that I’m mixing up the tools used to create imagery with the imagery itself.

Did that make any sense?

Am I going to quote Tennyson again? Yes, yes I am.

Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white; Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk; Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font. The firefly wakens; waken thou with me.

Now droops the milk-white peacock like a ghost,
And like a ghost she glimmers on to me.

Now lies the Earth all Danaë to the stars,
And all thy heart lies open unto me.

Now slides the silent meteor on, and leaves
A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me.

Now folds the lily all her sweetness up,
And slips into the bosom of the lake.
So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip
Into my bosom and be lost in me.

Yeah, Tennyson had a real gift for controlling the speed of his lines, so you end up with these ponderous, sumptuous reads with a lot of gravitas.

Part of this is that he’ll tend towards words with a dipthong if available, or failing that, just an arrangement of words that require the mouth to like…change modes to say them, which also slows the line down. Combine the two, then cram stresses in and you gets things like “the long day wanes, the slow moon climbs…”

Simple in theory, more difficult to practice. He had mastered it.

There’s more. Uh… https://calleteach.wordpress.com/2010/01/10/sounds-of-english-nasals-liquids-glides/

Ah, thanks! This is really making me slow down and think about a lot of stuff, where previously I’d just have gone ‘yeah, that’s neat’ on instinct.