What Is Poetic Diction:What,How,Examples (Complete Guide !)

Diction dictates the nature of a literary work. So let us delve deep into the question ‘what is poetic diction ?‘and conquer it.

Poetic diction includes the vocabulary,the syntax ,the figurative language, and the grammar  which give the poem an aesthetic tone.  The diction of poetry is considered different from that of the prose or everyday speech. This makes the poetry grandiose. Poetic diction is the vehicle through which the poet’s feelings are conveyed to the readers. 

Both ordinary  and ornamental language can be deployed in a poem .While the ordinary language makes the poem more clear, the ornamental language frees it from being prosaic. Epic poetry used archaic and Latin words to make the poetic diction more sublime. Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ uses Latin to make it more majestic.

    As we discussed ordinary language is used in poems of great poets. The Romantic poet William Wordsworth espoused using ordinary language in his poems.He denounced the neo classical concept of poetic diction.Let us go through a few lines from Wordsworth’s   Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey

what is poetic diction
Poetic diction

“ Five years have past; five summers, with the length

Of five long winters! and again I hear

These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs

With a soft inland murmur.—Once again

Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,

That on a wild secluded scene impress

Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect

The landscape with the quiet of the sky.

Wordsworth used ordinary language in his poem.Words like ‘mountain springs’.lofty cliffs’ are quite common.Over embellished diction is not employed.This is Wordsworth’s poetic diction.

When it comes to classical poets ,they used an embellished diction in their poetry.Archaic words and Latin words often found room  in their poetry.Here are a few lines from Milton’s Paradise Lost.

“Met such imbodied force, as nam’d with these/Could merit more then that small infantry ”

Here Milton used Latin as a pun.It was believed that Latin imparts elevation.

 In Alexander Pope’s poem  “An Essay on Criticism,” he deploys heroic couplet..That is a part of poetic diction .Let us have a look at it.

“’Tis hard to say, if greater Want of Skill / Appear in Writing or Judging ill.”

This heroic couplet gives the poem a unique style.Thus poetic diction matters here.

Keats’ linguistic style and vocabulary carved out a niche for his own poetic diction. In his  poem “Ode to a Nightingale” ,he uses the word ‘Nightingale’ instead of ‘bird’ which is of course a layman word.

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains

         My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,

Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains

         One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:

‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,

         But being too happy in thine happiness,—

                That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees

                        In some melodious plot

         Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,

                Singest of summer in full-throated ease”.

When the narrator hears the nighingale singing,he feels a mixture of emotions.Joy and pain are juxtaposed.That is conveyed through words like “hemlock”, “Dryad” and “lethe”.These words go beyond their literal meanings to convey the feelings of numbness,joy and pain.Keats’  poetic diction  conveys concrete emotions to the reader

What is poetic diction?

Poetic diction is the language we use in poetrty. It includes words,phrases,idioms,sentences,figurative languages,archaic words,sentence structure etc.

In ordinary day to day speech we do not use poetic diction.Poets like Edmund Spenser and JK Hopkins has a way with poetic diction.Poetic diction expresses the style of the poet.

Poetic diction examp

Alexander Pope uses‘Velvet plain’ for a green table and ‘finny creatures’ for ‘fish’, ‘‘two-handed engine’ for a pair of scissors etc in his poem.

Let us look at William Blak’s poem “ The Cold and the Pebble”.

“Love seeketh only self to please,

To bind another to its delight,

Joys in another’s loss of ease,

And builds a Hell in Heaven’s despite.”

Blake uses antithesis of heaven and hell here.

Where to use poetic diction

Poetic diction can be used to convey certain ideas.Having said that ,the era we live in decides the acceptance of the poetic diction.Latin words appeared in 18 th centuary poetry may not be appreciated today.

For instance we may not use  the poetic diction used in Alexander Pope’s , The Rape of the Lock in contemporary poetry.

Say what strange motive, Goddess! could compel
A well-bred lord t’ assault a gentle belle?
O say what stranger cause, yet unexplor’d

Poetic diction use

Poetic diction is used to convey the emotions,attitude and meaning of the poem with all its intensity to the readers.

The selection of words,metophors,similies, etc  helps the poet to draw a concrete picture of what she wants to express to the connoisseurs of her poem.For instance let us look at the poem The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams.

so much depends


a red wheel


glazed with rain


beside the white


The word ‘red’ is a symbolic diction.It connotes beyond its literal meaning.Since the  wheelbarrow is symbolic of the tumultuous life a person goes through,the ‘red’ can symbolise a person who is in distress.

Conclusion:Poetic diction  is the choice of words and other figurative devices employed in poetry .It helps to make poetry distinct and expressive .

Recent Posts