What Is the Function of Personification in Poetry?

Dan Cavallari

Personification in poetry is the process of giving human traits or characteristics to a non-human object or idea. The form of poetry generally involves using figurative language — that is, words and phrases with a meaning other than the standard definition — to convey an idea or emotion. Using personification in poems helps the reader develop a connection between a distant object or idea and feel empathy or sympathy for that idea or object. Poets often use personification to help the reader relate to the concept being presented, and to give a more complete understanding of a difficult concept to comprehend.

The use of personification in poetry helps the reader develop a connection between a distant object and feel sympathy for that object.
The use of personification in poetry helps the reader develop a connection between a distant object and feel sympathy for that object.

An example of personification may involve giving human traits to a tree, which is inanimate. This personification in poetry may read something like this:

"The tree of life can smile upon us all."

This line is written in iambic pentameter, which is a type of lyrical meter very commonly used in poetry. Most poetry, in fact, is written in some form of meter and often with rhyme, though some poems are not confined by these techniques. In the example above, personification in poetry is used by giving the tree a human trait: the tree smiles. In reality, of course, a tree cannot smile because it has no lips or mouth, but in this case, the tree can smile in a figurative sense: it can create happiness or at the very least life in all things, according to this line.

Personification in poetry can also be assigned to more ethereal or intangible concepts. An example might be as follows:

"My fear reached out and touched my heart."

Once again, this line of poetry has a specific meter, and it contains an example of personification: the intangible concept of fear is reaching out and touching, which it cannot do because it has no physical form. Fear is given human traits and characteristics to achieve a certain emotional connection with the reader, rather than to propel a true plot forward with real characters and actions.

Sometimes a poet uses personification so the narrator or speaker can directly address an inanimate object or concept and receive an answer in reply. A poet may, for example, directly address the heavens above, and in the poem, the heavens may answer with a booming voice. This is, of course, impossible, since the heavens above do not have a voice at all, but in the poem, the poet is now allowed to address the concept of heaven, God, or a higher power.

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Discussion Comments


At the entrance to the swimming pool at our university, there was a pawpaw tree, whose branches spread so that the entrance was blocked - naturally its branches were getting broken. One of the security guards perhaps felt sorry for the tree and pasted a line on one the branches of the - "Do not break my hands!" The security guard in a sense, "personified" the by making it "speak!" - Sivayesunesan


@hyrax53- I think your comment is a little far-fetched for me, but I can see why you might think the definition of personification in poetry is a little limiting if you think about it in terms of making things have human traits, which is how some writing teachers have defined it for me.

I write, and when I do I prefer to think of it as "giving life" to inanimate things, or embodying animals with traits they don't have. While it is personification, I guess I don't think of it the same way. Whatever you call it, though, I think it makes a difference in good writing.


I love personification, but I honestly don't like the term itself. Maybe I just read too many fantasy books as a child, but I feel like call it personification in poems or books when an animal talks or a tree makes noise or whatever sounds like giving too much credit to people.

What I mean is that animals communicate- maybe not talking the way people do, but they do communicate, and I don't think it related to people in a way that it needs to be called "personification". I don't have a better idea for what to call it, it just seems limiting to me.


Personification is a great tool to use in all kinds of art, not just poetry. It has been used to great effect in novels, speeches, paintings and films. It is so effective because it makes the subject that is being personified seem personable and intimate. It gives a voice to things which usually do not have one.

I remember once reading a story that was set from the perspective of a cloud slowly floating above a city. He spoke in a learned human voice but his perspective was from up in the sky looking down at everyone beneath him. It was really interesting to read and not something I would have ever thought of otherwise. If clouds had thoughts, what would they be thinking?

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