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Imagery in poetry

Imagery in poetry

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Tutor: Joel


Imagery in poetry

In a nutshell

Imagery is a poetic device which is important to know about in order to understand a lot of poetry. Imagery is highly descriptive language used to give the reader of a poem a sense that they can truly imagine a particular scene or moment. There are different types of imagery and they all target a reader’s senses or emotions. Imagery can occur alone or at the same time as other poetic devices such as similes, metaphors, personification or allusion.

Sensory imagery

Sensory imagery is used to make a reader imagine through their senses. It allows the reader to get a full understanding of a poetic scene by thinking about how the moment might look, taste, smell, sound or feel.

Visual imagery​

This is perhaps the most common form of imagery. Visual imagery allows the reader to imagine a scene vividly by painting a detailed, descriptive picture with words.


Yalding, 1912. My father

in and apple orchard, sunlight
patching his stylish bags

three women dressed in soft,
white blouses
, skirts that brush the grass;
a child with curly hair.

(From ‘On Finding an Old Photograph’, by Wendy Cope)

Gustatory imagery

Gustatory imagery aims to engage the reader’s imagination of tastes and flavours. Poets use it when they want a reader to imagine how something tastes.


The fruit was cold and delicious, bursting with sweet juice.

Olfactory imagery

Olfactory imagery is a type of imagery that describes smells. Poets will use olfactory imagery to encourage the reader to imagine particular smells and odours.


There was a damp smell of earth after the rain and, in the distance, smoke.

Auditory imagery

Auditory imagery is another common form of sensory imagery. It is used to describe sounds so that a poet can enhance the scene in the mind of the reader.


​In every cry of every man,
In every Infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg'd manacles I hear.

How the Chimney-sweeper's cry
Every blackning Church appalls;
And the hapless Soldier's sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls.

(From 'London', by William Blake)

Tactile imagery

Tactile imagery is about the sense of touch. It is an evocative way for poets to explain the way things physically feel in a particular instance within the poem, allowing the reader to gain a better understanding of the poet's scene. Tactile imagery covers temperature, texture and physical feelings.


He ran the palm of his hand over the coarse fabric. He could feel the rough threads beneath his fingertips.

Kinaesthetic imagery

Kinaesthetic imagery is similar to tactile imagery, but instead of only being related to touch, it is about full sensations and movement. Poets use kinaesthetic imagery to give their readers a sense of how things are moving within their poem, letting them know about important moments of motion.


She could see the swallows dart and dive in the sky above her, the trees shivering in the wind, and the stream surging through the valley.

Emotional imagery

Poets also often use imagery to create an emotional response in a reader. So, imagery can be referred to as 'sinister imagery', 'melancholy imagery', 'sentimental imagery' or any other type of emotional imagery, even while also being of the six types mentioned above.


In the following passage, sinister or ominous imagery is being used:

The cold earth slept below;
    Above the cold sky shone;
        And all around,
        With a chilling sound,
From caves of ice and fields of snow
The breath of night like death did flow
        Beneath the sinking moon.

(From 'Lines: The Cold Earth Slept Below', by Percy Bysshe Shelley)

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FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions

Why do poets use tactile imagery?

What is sensory imagery?

Is imagery a poetic device?


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