What’s Imagery in Poetry and Fiction?

Sometimes, I write blog posts to educate myself about things I’m interested in. This is one of those times. As a writer and avid reader, I’ve often heard the term “imagery” in poetry and fiction and didn’t know exactly what it meant.

So, I did some research and will explain (as best I can) what imagery in poetry and fiction is and how writers can best use it.

Here’s how LitCharts defines imagery:

“Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines from Robert Frost’s poem “After Apple-Picking” contain imagery that engages the senses of touch, movement, and hearing: “I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend. / And I keep hearing from the cellar bin / The rumbling sound / Of load on load of apples coming in.”

Source: LitCharts

Why imagery is important

A simple definition of poetic and fictional imagery is using descriptive language that engages the reader’s five senses. In fact, some people argue it’s not just the physical senses – you can even use imagery to describe internal feelings and motions. Fantastic imagery in poetry and fiction makes you experience the tastes, smells, and sights vividly of the characters and objects in a story or poem.

Writers can also use figurative language (like similes and metaphors) for imagery, but that’s not entirely necessary. Sometimes, straightforward, sensual descriptions of ideas, objects, or actions are just as good as figurative language that compares things to each other.

Using imagery is important because it engages readers, and it’s interesting. Using descriptive language pulls readers in and lets them feel what the characters are feeling. It’s this type of language that helps readers “get lost in the story or poem.”

An example from T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot was a master of poetic imagery. One of his more famous poems, “Preludes,” is well-known for its imagery and descriptive language. Here’s the first stanza from the poem:

“The winter evening settles down

With smell of steaks in passageways.

Six o’clock.

The burnt-out ends of smoky days.

And now a gusty shower wraps

The grimy scraps

Of withered leaves about your feet

And newspapers from vacant lots;

The showers beat

On broken blinds and chimney-pots,

And at the corner of the street

A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.

And then the lighting of the lamps.”

Source: Poetry Foundation

Reading it over, I noticed how the poem pulled me in with all sorts of sensory images: the smell of steaks, the stamping of the cab-horse, the lighting of the lamps. The whole first stanza sets a beautiful winter evening scene.

So, there you have it! That’s what imagery is in poetry and fiction, and there’s an excellent example from T.S. Eliot. I definitely learned some things from writing this brief post, and I hope you learned a bit, too.

Happy writing and reading!

(Cover photo of T. S. Eliot in 1923, by Lady Ottoline Morrell; Source: National Portrait GalleryNPG Ax141430)

4 thoughts on “What’s Imagery in Poetry and Fiction?

  1. ashleyleia May 26, 2021 / 3:49 pm

    Wilfred Owen used imagery remarkably well in his poetry about World War I.

    • Nick Pipitone May 26, 2021 / 4:12 pm

      I’ll have to check him out! Thanks for reading, Ashley.

  2. Dave Williams May 26, 2021 / 5:33 pm

    I like seeing good examples of imagery in writing. When used well, it can make you feel as if you’re part of the scene, and that’s remarkable when writers pull it off.

    • Nick Pipitone May 26, 2021 / 8:58 pm

      Agreed! I think the poem by TS Eliot is a great example.

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