In constructing a poem the author must consider the way in which the message will be established, therefore they must make specific choices using poetic devices to convey the meaning to the reader. In poetry the author makes use of sound devices, rhyme, imagery, typography and language to construct the meaning of the text. Examples of the use of literary devices to construct meaning can be seen in the poem ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ by Wilfred Owen – a sonnet illustrating the horrors of war, and ‘Digging’ by Seamus Heaney that explores the gaps between the aspirations of an individual and the expectations of their heritage.

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Poetry comes in many forms such as a sonnet, ode, dramatic monologue, etc. and each form and structure can change or enhance the meaning of the text. For example, through the construction of the free verse poem ‘Digging’, written in 1966 in Ireland as the rural economy started to change, the reader is shown the conflicts that arise when the expectations of a father, who represents a generation of rural workers, clashes with the ambitions of an individual. In the poem ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, written post-WWI, we see the sonnet form used to convey and criticize the events seen during and after a war (particularly with the inadequacy of the responding religious ceremonies) and its repercussions on those affected by it. Both poems achieve a very different effect and convey a completely new message as a result of the way they have been constructed.

The poem ‘Digging’ by Seamus Heaney is a free verse poem that consists of eight stanzas which have the effect of distinguishing and linking the work of the father (symbolic of agricultural labour) and the son (symbolic of cultural labour). Heaney came from a line of rural workers however he himself pursued the career of a writer; he explores the differences between the two professions and links them with the use of symbolism e.g. the analogy between digging and writing “The squat pen rests. Ill dig with it”. The repetition of the symbolism of diggingin the way the poem is constructed aims to create the idea of physical labour being associated with the continuity of workmanship from father to son.

Page 2 The use of literary devices as a tool to construct meaning in Poetry Essay

Repetition and alliteration is also used to create a rhythm in the poem “digging down and down”, the use of rhythm in thepoem in the description of the fathers actions for digging creates the physical precision and repetitive, mechanical feel of digging, “digging down and down for the good turf. Digging” The use of the words “Nicking and slicing” as a sound device creates the imagery of a rural farm worker as the words are associated with the action of a blade slicing away at the crops.

The use of typography to accentuate the link between father and son (representative of old a new ways of working) can be seen in the use of the two couplets and the final triplet stanzas, these visually stand apart from the other stanzas as the other stanzas consist of three or more lines and through the use of imagery, act to describe the workmanship as opposed to linking the stanzas. The use of literary devices throughout the poem ‘Digging’ works to convey the link between father and son which symbolizes the change from past to present, therefore achieving an enhanced portrayal of the themes and ideas of the text.

The portrayal of the horrors of war and its impacts on those directly or indirectly affected is constructed through the use of a sonnet form and poetic devices in the poem ‘Anthem for doomed youth’ by Wilfred Owen. Owen was a soldier in the First World War who was appalled by the acts of violence and injustice seen on the battlefield and felt that the religious responses to war were inadequate ‘ in face of all that horror,’ and ‘our anthems might ring hollow, no matter how much we seek meaning in them’ (Shmoop Editorial Team).

Heaney aimed to convey this in his poem. ‘Anthem for doomed youth’ is a 14 line poem consisting of an octet and sestet, the octet is dominated by the sound of battle and the sestet is characterized by muted grief. The sonnet form relates two similar but different themes in order to communicate the devastating effect of war and its repercussions. In the sonnet form each stanza opens with a question that is resolved/addressed in the rest of the stanza.

Because of this the poet’s opinion is clear from the outset. Therefore the stanza is set up to be read a certain way depending on the desired effect. In this poem the line “What passing bells for these who die as cattle?” has the effect of criticizing war and the actions surrounding it (the bells symbolizing the church’s involvement) which will influence the readers interpretation of the stanza. Onomatopoeia and repetition of letters in the line “Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle” is used to create a strong aural effect of gunfire.

The repeated ’t’ and ‘r’ sounds create a strong aural reference to the short, harsh, rapid sounds of bullets being fired. The ‘t’ sound also creates a painful, stinging affect from the words and the allusion to gunfire (symbolic of death and destruction) creates the negative, sinister atmosphere of the stanza. The use of the word ‘stuttering’ also adds to that effect. Alliteration is also used to create a dull stillness and mournful, sombre atmosphere as the poem comes to a close (symbolic of death as a devastating conclusion). In the line “And each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds” the repeated ‘d’ sound creates the melancholy feel of the second stanza by slowing down the rhythm of the line, it also emphasizes the ‘drawing down’ imagery of the blinds which is symbolic of death as traditionally blinds are drawn when a person dies.

Through the use of poetic devices, the two poems ‘Digging’ and ‘Anthem for doomed youth’ have been constructed to convey different meanings entirely. By utilizing the free verse form and sound devices Heaney creates the imagery of digging and the continuity of traditions from father to son and links it to the aspirations of the son and his desire to work as a writer.

The sonnet form and structure of ‘Anthem for doomed youth’ effectively illustrates the grief stricken atmosphere of post-WWI and insinuates the inadequacy of the religious response to the war. Both poems have used literary devices as a tool to successfully construct the meaning of the text.

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