Feb 22, 2013

POETRY FRIDAY: Evoking Emotion

One of poetry’s most important functions is to convey the emotions of the writer to the reader.  There is a latent power in written language; words and phrases strung skillfully together can raise a lump in readers’ throats, make them laugh, provoke their anger, deepen their appreciation, rouse their empathy, spur them to action…and the list goes on.

When writing poetry, there are many things you can do to engage your readers’ emotions. Vivid imagery, poetic devices (such as metaphor, simile, personification, hyperbole, etc.), rhythm, meter, and beautiful word choices can all pull some serious emotional strings. And by tapping into your readers' senses, you can often evoke memories and experiences that have meaning for them. 
Consider this poem by the English poet John Masefield, one of my all-time favorites:

                                                                  SEA FEVER                                                                         by John Masefield (1878-1967)
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

Masefield’s beautiful poem has the ability to evoke strong emotion, both in me and in countless people through the years. When I read it, I am transported to a shell-scattered beach and the sky is a pearly, pinkish gray. The waves crash and roll, and then cool water washes over my feet as they sink into the sand. I feel the spray of the water, smell the beachy breeze, and taste the salt in the air. And it makes me happy and sad at the same time.
As I pondered this post, I dug deep to determine exactly why this poem creates such vivid images for me. Then I recalled that in the eighth grade I memorized and recited Sea Fever to my class for a (terrifying) language arts assignment. And then I looked even further back, and had a “light bulb” moment—until I was 3 years old, I lived with my parents a few blocks away from the beach in Jacksonville, Florida. My earliest memories are of walking barefoot along the shore, each of my hands in one of theirs. And I remember them swinging me UP in the air between them, jumping the waves. This was before my two younger sisters were born, before responsibility, before care. Before growing up.

John Masefield, though long gone, still makes an emotional connection with me each time I read his poem. And if we actively engage our readers’ deepest selves with our own writing, we can make strong emotional connections, as well.
And that is the whole point of poetry, isn’t it?   


  1. EVOCATIVE is the central rod of poetry. Thank you for Sea Fever^...~~~~~ (Waves)

  2. Dear Becky,
    I love Masefield's words: "like a whetted knife."
    The wind at the beach with the added sand blowing in it definitely has the cutting edge of a knife.

    Thanks for sharing this poem and your memories attached to it.

    Celebrate you and your ability to create beautiful tapestry with words.

    Never Give Up
    Joan Y. Edwards

    1. Thank you, Joan! I love Masefield's use of language!

  3. Your post brought me a spray of the sea on a chilly February day and plenty to think about while reading and writing poetry. Thank you, Becky!

  4. Becky, As I read your post this morning, I'm listening to the "wild call" of the sea, of writing, and of life. Your thoughts alongside Masefield's poem transported me beside a breezy ocean where I could feel the sand squish between my toes. Thanks for the inspiration, as always!

    1. Thank you, Laurie! It really does make you feel as if you are at the seashore!


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