Imagery and Analysis

Imagery and Analysis

A Lesson by William Liston

I describe and analyse poems that have great imagery.


Imagery is writing that appeals to one or more of the five senses. In poetry, it serves as the realm between words and reality--it actually lets the reader "live" in your writing as opposed to just reading it. Since poetry's purpose is to excite the emotions, imagery is a vital tool because it can take the reader on a journey--one where the emotional impact of the poem is "experienced" and not just read.

Here are some things to remember about imagery:

  • Imagery can convey more than just an image; it can instead illustrate a process. The line "the rising sun misted the sky with gold" for example, doesn't just create a still picture; it instead illustrates an entire scene where the sun gradually makes the sky "golden."

  • If you have trouble with imagery, use the following process: First, think of the mood you want the image to create. Then, think of an action(s) and/or object(s) that creates that mood. Here's an example from one of my poems: "Let the wind rip and rave as I stare at your grave." In that line, the grave and violent wind convey a sorrowful mood.

  • Imagery alone doesn't create a mood; word choice has a lot to do with it.

  • When creating an image, think precisely. Take the phrase "the wind blew" for example. It's very vague and doesn't give much of an atmosphere to the poem. To emphasize the wind, one could instead write "the wind caressed" or "the wind thrashed."

  • Imagery is not just confined to concrete objects; it can be applied to concepts and emotions. The line "enchained by sorrow," for example, creates an image with something abstract.

Imagery, in combination with tone, diction, etc..., helps to convey the atmosphere of a poem, and therefore, all imagery in a poem must enhance or develop the mood. Imagery must not be used just for the mere purpose of "showing off" eloquence (or lack thereof), for if it is, it turns the poem into a convoluted mess of words rather that the beautiful "charm" it's meant to be. Take Sylvia Plath's poem "Mirror" for example:

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.

Whatever I see I swallow immediately

Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.

I am not cruel, only truthful ‚

The eye of a little god, four-cornered.

Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.

It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long

I think it is part of my heart. But it flickers.

Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,

Searching my reaches for what she really is.

Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.

I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.

She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.

I am important to her. She comes and goes.

Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.

In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman

Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

Edgar Allan Poe once described a good a poem as writing that "invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears," and I agree. A poem should have an ethereal effect to it--one that seems too beautiful for this world--one that grasps the essence of life from its great sorrow to its pinnacles of jubilation. Sylvia Plath, in my opinion, does not do that in "Mirror." (Call it disrespectful to the dead if you wish, but I consider Plath a disgrace as a poet, and if you wish to debate me on that, please, do so. I will gladly explain every reason why I think she is one of the most overrated poets ever). Regardless of my opinion, this poem's impact as a whole ultimately depends on the reader, but one cannot deny the unnecessary imagery in the piece. There are two unnecessary parts that especially stick out: "I think it is part of my heart," and "I see her back and reflect it faithfully." For those of you who are thinking how could Liston not like this poem: it's perfect, allow me to ask you about those two lines. Do they really have any significance? The goal of this poem is to express an aging woman's melancholy towards her fading youth, a truth that is ultimately revealed day by day when she stares into her mirror. Do those lines convey anything that adds significance to the theme? No, they don't, and if you think otherwise, please comment or message me. (Sorry if it seems like I'm being a little too aggressive, but I once had to write an essay on how the poem's imagery conveyed the mood, and our teacher wanted a line-by-line analysis. It was almost impossible to describe how those lines developed the mood; I just had to make something up).

Here's a poem that effectively uses imagery:

The State of My Room

by Death's Poet

As I sit here in a darkened room

Shades blowing lazily in the breeze

The cold air haunts me

Yet fills my soul to ease

It's cold, but it's not freezing

Just enough to give a chill

To tired to remember if I'm broke

Or if I just forgot to pay the heating bill

It wasn't the latter

Though I would never tell my mother

I can hear her condescending tone

As she compares me to my brother

I pull the threadbare blanket close

Not for warmth, but to comfort me

I look around this darkened room

At the same mess I always see

If rooms reflect the state of one's life

Mine would hit the nail on the head

For my room is in the exact state

Of one who wishes they were dead

© 2016 Death's Poet

Notice how in this poem, Death's Poet describes the room in a way that's almost too accurate--in a way that actually causes the reader to "feel" the room instead of just visualizing it. She describes not just a breeze but one that "gives a chill;" she doesn't just put on a blanket but she does so with a desire for comfort. Each description adds a dark, mysterious atmosphere to the poem that makes the author's room eerie--one with a particular breeze and a particular shade of darkness that gives the room a hint of melancholy. Watch what she does with that somber tone in these last lines: "For my room is in the exact state/ Of one who wishes they were dead."

A great poet binds the physical world with the conceptual, and with those final lines, Death's Poet reveals the conceptual significance of the room that the almost "tangible" imagery would suggest, thus creating a climatic effect. "The State of My Room" is just one of many of Death's Poets "gems." If you want to read more poems that use imagery to convey a mysterious mood, read some of Death's Poets works.

Richard is another poet on this website whose imagery has impressed me. With each word, he paints an elegant realm of fascination that never fails to entrance the reader. His work appeals to both the technical and emotional side of poetry. Here's one of my favorites by him:

Come, let me gently pull you into our quietness

where wonder has etched the loveliness of

your softly alluring "take me" eyes

permanently into my hopeful,

azure blues,

where the dawns rise silently ~ gently

to mist our early skies with gold

before surrendering...

on unto the day.

Let us entwine our ever-willing, hungry fingers

in quiet, reverent solitude...

to stroll through boundless amber fields,

where the stalks of wheat in training

learn to weather life's gloriously

gentled breath of creation,

waving as one together

at all awe-struck


Let me know you in your quiet stillness,

as I have known you like soft waves

fondling the excited shore, while

You are siren, I am sailor...

where the all of us is

~ Eternity.

Let me love you in your calm moments,

that I may know it is me your loins

open in aching hunger for, and

it is for me your eyes close

when your sighs breathe

and flow softly down

o'er me from your

lusty throat.

Then, in the solitude of this time, Our time...

embraced in these hushed surroundings,

let our souls meld into matrimony,

with no clergy or witnesses,


in these quiet places, let me be

the sole reason your arms,

your moist lips, and

your world


Richard W. Jenkins


In this poem, Richard, through his masterful choice of words and beautiful imagery conveys a romantic mood. Notice how he uses imagery with rhetorical skills to create "streams of elegance"--where each description seems undulate in the reader's mind, smoothly fading in and out of the imagination with each new thought. From the enchanting setting to the couple delighting in one another's affection, all the imagery in this poem conveys the mood; not a single line is wasted.

This poem has two primary focuses: the loving couple and the romantic setting. Both aspects of the poem are intertwined throughout, with one complementing the other. In the first two stanzas, this poem heavily focuses on the setting, which gives it a tranquil atmosphere. Also in those stanzas, the two lovers are described in short (but elegant) detail to add a hint of romance; however, the imagery primarily focuses on the scenery. I found the lines "to mist our early skies with gold" and "gentled breath of creation" to be the most outstanding; this is mainly because they perfectly reflect the poet's choice of simple yet impactful words. The word mist in "to mist our early skies with gold," for example, creates more than just a picture; it creates an entire visualization where the skies gradually morph into golden spectacles. The entire phrase "gentled breath of creation" illustrates the wind--not just blowing--but caressing the stalks of wheat.

There are, obviously, more examples of the poet's eloquence all throughout the poem. Just pick any line and viola.

The poem shifts from a more serene mood to a romantic one in the last three stanzas (the last two for sure), where the two lovers are the focus and not the environment surrounding them. The lines "that I may know that it is for me your loins/open in aching hunger for" are almost two vivid. The sensual desire conveyed by the phrase "aching hunger" is almost too real--where the reader can actually "feel" the romantic urges. If Richard used the phrase "strong desire" instead, the image would have been more vague, but instead of using such a phrase, Richard used "aching hunger"--which is a feeling that the reader can more precisely imagine.

As in this poem, many of Richard's works are romantic pieces filled with wonderful imagery. He's also a great poet to learn from if you wish to experiment with word use and punctuation.

It would be a crucial mistake to not analyze this next poem:

In The Depths

by M. L. Franchello

In the depths of her womb grew a darkening tomb

While the earth crashed around her eclipsing her moon

And the mother, so far along, reeled in great shock

When the little heart no longer thump as it ought

 And the soul of the angel whom heaven had sought

Soared upwards to heaven without a sad thought

But except for his mother asleep in her bed

He stopped first to hover there over her head

Watching her sleep, he laid hand on her heart

And whispered, “In heaven, we never shall part”

With its smooth flow and vivid, imaginative imagery, this poem is best described as "heavenly." As in the other two poems, the vocabulary is not complex (anyone who reads at a 6th-grade level should understand the words); however, the words are good enough to create an image and thus convey a mood. I described this poem best in my review: "From the nearly perfect vivid imagery in the beginning to the climatic irony at the end, this poem conveyed what I would call 'bright darkness,' or in other words, an emotional feeling of longing and despair that ultimately becomes silenced at the thought of hope. With amazing imagery and rhyme scheme, you (Franchello) wrote a poem that entranced me more and more with each word."

As far as imagery is concerned, this poem mostly fascinates me with its "otherworldly" descriptions. I've never seen an angel transcend into heaven nor have I seen one hover over someone's head, but Franchello's way of describing it made the entire scene "real." The first line sets up the scene perfectly; the words "womb" and "grew a darkening tomb" tell the reader that a woman is giving birth, and the baby (as indicated by the word "tomb") is most likely going to die. Not only is a situation established, but the mood and tone are also set. Franchello's use of words such as "depths" and "tomb" created a slightly mysterious, somber atmosphere; watch what she does with this in the following lines: "And the mother, so far along, reeled in great shock/ When the little heart no longer thump as it ought."

In lines three and four, the death foreshadowed in the first line actually occurs, and as a result, the poem conveys melancholy; however the poem itself never becomes "drowned" in the sorrow. This poem is told in the third person, thus none of the characters involved in the story actually narrate. Since the poem is told from the eyes of an all-seeing observer, there is never just one mood prevalent throughout the poem; there is, instead, a contrast between the emotions. From the serenity of the child ascending into heaven to the mother's sorrow, there are multiple feelings in this poem that I describe as "an air of lament outlined by elegance." That mood gives the last line its impact, where the child's underlying serenity finally takes dominance in the poem.

This marvelous work by Franchello, is, as was with the other poets, one of many. In her works, Franchello conveys a variety of moods that range from anger to hope. She also writes prose too. I'd recommend you to read her works.

Lastly, I'm going to analyze a poem that, as far as imagery is concerned, I consider my greatest accomplishment. Since this is my own work, I have the privilege of not only analyzing the imagery, but actually describing the process I used to write the poem.

Here it is:

This Blade of Mine

by William Liston

Ah, another lonely night

undying sorrows cloud my mind...

Tomorrow's joy seems so distant

--almost impossible to grasp

--reality that exists in dreams only.

Thus, a smile to me is just a dream

--nothing more!

Nothing more than a reflection of

that which I've never achieved.

So this night flows with ghosts

of each daunting memory

--memories I'm forced to call "my life's truth,"

'til finally, my wandering eyes see You.

While reflecting on my woes, haunting truth of past,

the inner depths of sorrow...

I see you at last.

Yes, My Love,

let me tightly clinch you in my hand

as your lustrous figure gleams

amid the luminous moonlight.

My eager wrist longs for your warm embrace.

Please, take me away.

Let scorching pain fade with each drop of red.

Let each vein grasp you as my melancholy

becomes masked by your gentle touch.

Let this monstrosity called life wane from rain to mist

as your gentle kiss pervades throughout my soul.

Oh, slowly--sooo slowly let my vision fade to only

scattered blurs of darkness, dead and lonely.

Ah, I see it now, my life passing by.

I swear it's true, I really did try.

Alas for those who mourn . . . never mind,

none will cry after the sun rises high

and my note reads "goodbye."

As I do with all of my poems, I first decided on the mood (sorrowful yet cathartic) and a situation that would convey both parts of the mood (the boy's sadness towards his past and his suicide would convey the sorrow while the release from life's troubles by his "beloved" blade would add a cathartic feel).

I then had to decide on the arrangement of ideas in the poem. Unlike many poems that describe a concept or something abstract, "This Blade of Mine" describes a process where a boy commits suicide, so logically, the boy's lament towards his past had to come first and his death had to come last. From there, I divided the poem into two parts: one where the boy's past was the main focus and one where the blade and death was the main focus. I then decided on the imagery that I would use in each part of the poem.

In the first part of the poem, I decided, almost randomly, that describing joy as something distant while describing pain as something that's always in my life would convey the melancholic feeling that I desired. From there, I brainstormed words, phrases, and/or images such as "undying sorrows," "cloud," and "seems so distant" that would give the poem a sorrowful atmosphere. I did the same with the second part of the poem; the only difference was the purpose of the imagery. I wanted to use words and phrases such as "gentle kiss" and "warm embrace" to convey my death as a release from troubles; the topic of death and self-harm itself would still maintain the sorrowful "air" in the poem. After my brainstorm, the poem basically wrote itself. (I did revise my work afterward).

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William Liston
William Liston


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