The Elements of Poetry Part 4: Diction

For the final week of National Poetry Month, April, I will continue my brief introductions to the four elements of poetry. These four elements are Prosody, Rhyme, Form, and Diction. The last in the four-part series I will discuss on the elements of poetry is Diction. The simplest way to define diction is the words chosen for the poem. This includes what words a writer chooses for describing a person or place. I would argue it even includes what point of view of the speaker in the poem.

Metaphor, simile, and tone of voice are important things to consider in a poem’s diction. Modern poets often choose to ignore these rhetorical devices. They attempt direct presentation and explore tone. Surrealists often stretch rhetorical devices to their limits. Other elements of diction include allegory and imagery. Refrains can add to the effect of imagery, be it a small phrase or longer line. For example, Homer’s “rosy-fingered dawn.” Imagery in poetry describes things in different and unexpected ways. A writer should look for new ways to describe things readers have seen before. 

In my experience with my own writing, diction is often considered before from, rhyme, or rhythm. One should not be against trying different words or new descriptions of old things. Writers may consider writing from the point of view of an inanimate object. Or they may consider writing about an emotion through a metaphor of something physical. The one takeaway I want people to get from this four-part introduction is that anything goes. Writers should write what and how they want and write what they feel.

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