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Onomatopoeia and Their Use in Poetry

By Gary R. Hess. Category: Poetry

Sight, sound, touch, voice, and smell: the five great senses. All five play an important role in the development of quality poetry. The senses help grab the reader's attention and lets the imagination do its thing and display emotions in a surreal manner to help key in parts of the writing.

Sight - Give the reader something he can see.
Sound - Give the reader something he can hear.
Touch - Give the reader the texture and feel everything has.
Voice - Let the reader know you as the author. Your writing style and the words you choose play an important part of this.
Smell - What makes the scenery smell wretched? Describe it. Give us examples. Is it fishy? Sulfur? Give us imagery we can use in our minds!

For sound and imagery, onomatopoeia can help make or break a poem. It utilizes your setting and even controls the imagination of your reader. It can also help the overall feeling the writing holds by making it more childish, dangerous, or adventurous.

Sounds such as "boom" will immediately grab the reader's attention. It can mean that a door was slammed shut or even a gun has gone off. The sound might even happen as a central part of your climax. Other sounds such as "moo" will obviously indicate the protagonist or antagonist is near a farm. Other onomatopoeias such as "click" can mean someone clicked a mouse, hung up a phone, or some other simple yet meaningful action.

An onomatopoeia is used to increase the senses or describe a situation without the use of further words. They may also be used to add humor or other emotions to the poem.

Even though children's rhymes have the most obvious use for onomatopoeia (everyone knows the song "Old McDonald"), they are also used in many famous poems and authors throughout the history of poetry.

An example of a famous poet seen using onomatopoeia is Edgar Allan Poe. "The Bells" uses "jingling", "tinkling", "shriek", "chiming", "twanging", "clanging", and "clang." Each word brings a slightly different emotional response but all are used for the same sound. The differences are what makes onomatopoeia an amazing tool.

To follow up, when the reader 'hears' a specific sound they immediately associate it with specific objects, things, or places. This makes onomatopoeia one of the greatest tools a poet has in their possession. It can influence emotion and engage readers in ways other tools can't.

So why not try it out? Use an onomatopoeia in your next poem.