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Term Definition

Imagery is used to enhance the vividness of writing and to "paint a picture" for the reader. A writer who uses imagery well can appeals to the reader's imagination by linking words with sensory experiences. This can be achieved either through well-selected use of adjectives and descriptive words or through the use of metaphors, which can link more abstract thoughts or ideas with utterly concrete objects and images.

Introduction to Imagery

In literary terms, imagery is the use of figurative language to convey and represent ideas, objects, character types, and actions in order to appeal to our physical senses. Imagery is a literary device which allows the reader or listener to imagine something being written about in our mind’s eye. Imagery can refer to the mental images created through the use of certain descriptive or appropriate language which helps the reader imagine a scene in a literary work despite being unable to see, hear, or feel it. The word imagery is directly associated with pictures and photographs, and can also be used to describe actual pictures in a literary work or other work of art. The word’s first known use was in the 14th century B.C.E.

Examples in Sentences

Literature is rife with examples of imagery; writing and speech would be very dry, sterile, and uninteresting without it.

Example 1: The day was lightly dreary, as if the rain dripping down were just able to weakly obscure the sunlight concealed behind the dense clouds.

Example 2: The sound of the Ruger dropping onto the concrete reverberated endlessly about the parking structure.

Example 3: The taste of the champagne was light and sparkly on my tongue, flowing across the expanse to my throat like a spring flood of pixie dust.

Imagery uses common figures of speech such as simile, metaphor, onomatopoeia, personification and others in order to convey feelings that cannot be perceived through the written word.

Imagery helps bring writing to life, and makes writing individual and unique in its many incarnations. Poetry, especially, is dependent upon imagery use because it often conveys more tactile, sensory, and sensual ideas and concepts in a shorter amount of words. Part of poetry’s beauty and appeal to the senses is a wealth of imagery and detail. The following examples demonstrate imagery in poetry.

“You do not have to be good. 

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

Love what it loves.” – Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

“Here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

And the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows

Higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

And this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

I carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)” e.e. cummings, [i carry your heart with me (i carry it in)]

Imagery in the Modern Context

Imagery brings text to life, and lets the reader become truly absorbed in the writing – something that modern technology has been trying but unable to emulate over the years. The immersion of Google Glasses and 3-D imagery are all attempts to make distant life experiences more immediate and sensory; more real. Technology, however, has still been unable to improve upon the experience of pure imagination through the imagery created by words on a page or a screen.

Poetry is not the only place where imagery is required for exceptional writing and a wonderful reading experience. Prose uses imagery, as well. Below are a few examples from prose writing.

“The long-standing drainpipe had been crushed and dragged off by the rear wheel of the Harley-Davidson, leaving it deflated and lonely among the ground covering purple blossoms in the railroad-tie garden.”

Another example from Barbara Willard’s The Sprig of Broom:

“The sun was as hot as if it shone on the first week of September, but a tumbling sky threw great clouds before the wind, and when the sun was obscured then all the promise of winter was int eh air. But it was magic weather, a gift to sweeten the sadness of the ending year. There were still blackberries, thick and dripping with juice, but these would remain on the bushes, for by now, as it was said, the Devil had spat on them and they should not be eaten. So birds gorged themselves, and the ground and the leaves of the brambles were strewn with purple droppings. The water, half shadow and half glitter, threw back the colours of beech and bracken, tossing them over the boulders like gold and copper coins.”

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