Imagery is the invocation of any of the five senses to create mental images and spark sensations using figures of speech. There is nothing appealing about a poem without one. The absence of imagery makes a poem bland and lifeless. Literary authorities recognise seven types of imagery: gustatory, kinesthetic, olfactory, organic, tactile , visual and auditory. Poets make use of any of these major forms of imagery in reinforcing their messages. They are used in a number of combinations depending on the poet.
Imagery intensifies the impact of the poet’s words as he shows us with his words rather than just telling us what he feels.
Let’s consider this sentence:
The strawberries were blood-red with ripeness and almost scraped the ground on a long line of wild bushes.
What picture do you see in your mind when you read this? You probably imagined the deep color of the ripe strawberries, the warmth of the summer sun, and perhaps the feeling of the grainy smoothness of the fruit. Imagery in poetry creates similar snapshots in a reader’s mind.
Poets use imagery to draw readers into a sensory experience. Images will often provide us with mental snapshots that appeal to our senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell.
In essence, images show us meaning; when we compare the snapshots in our mind to our own memories or experiences, we connect emotionally to the poem.
Imagery can either expose us to new experiences or reveal our own experiences in a new light. Because most poems are brief, a poet has the challenge of creating an entire world for the reader in a few short lines, and images or even the story that arises from a series of images is the most efficient route to this communication.
William Wordsworth in his poem l, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” employed imagery. The first and last stanzas is a progression of the poet’s emotions in the excerpt below.
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
Sylvia Plath is most known for her tortured soul.
Her use of imagery is rich and that is why readers identify with her works so well. A good example is Daddy. She has mastered the unusual art of giving meaningful words to nameless emotions. Here’s an excerpt:
…Not a God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.
You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who
Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do…
It is not a typical poem of lamentation. Not the cliched obituary poem where hopes of meeting in the other world is littered. Rather with her choice of words, she is pleased of his departure from her life and she outlines reasons in each line in the poem.
The father is seen as a black shoe, a giant statue, a swastika and a vampire. The girl who doubles as the narrator is a victim, ending up in some strange places – in a black shoe, in a sack, and in a sense, in the train as it chugs along.
Snapshots such as ‘the boot in the face’ and ‘you stand at the blackboard, daddy’ are examples of visual images. We can see the boot. We can see the blackboard. However, when we read this series of images together, we gain horrifying emotional impressions of oppression, neglect, and spite.