Readers love poetic images that spark off the senses, but for writers, crafting these images isn’t always easy. An overwritten or underwritten description can turn otherwise eloquent prose into mush.
When good writers fashion descriptive prose they think like poets. They read and learn from poetry and incorporate similar images into their work.
Because next Wednesday is America’s Independence Day, I’m sharing with you imagery poems from two twentieth-century American poets. See how easily the images form as you read.
The first poem is by the American poet, Amy Lowell (February 9, 1874 – May 12, 1925).
by Amy Lowell (1915)
You hate me and I hate you
And we are so polite, we two!
But whenever I see you, I burst apart
And scatter the sky with my blazing heart.
It spits and sparkles in the stars and balls,
Buds into roses – and flares, and falls.
Scarlet buttons, and pale green disks,
Silver spirals and asterisks,
Shoot and tremble in a mist
Peppered with mauve and amethyst.
I shine in the windows and light up the trees,
And all because I hate you, if you please.
And when you meet me, you rend asunder
And go up in a flaming wonder
Of saffron cubes, and crimson moons,
And wheels all amaranths and maroons.
Golden lozenges and spades
Arrows of malachites and jades,
Patens of copper, azure sheaves.
As you mount, you flash in the glossy leaves.
Such fireworks as we make, we two!
Because you hate me and I hate you.
The second poem comes from the American author, editor and poet, Carl Sandburg (January 6, 1878 – July 22, 1967).
by Carl Sandburg (1920)
Many ways to say good night.
Fireworks at a pier on the Fourth of July
spell it with red wheels and yellow spokes.
They fizz in the air, touch the water and quit.
Rockets make a trajectory of gold-and-blue
and then go out.
Railroad trains at night spell with a smokestack mushrooming a white pillar.
Steamboats turn a curve in the Mississippi crying a baritone that crosses lowland cottonfields to razorback hill.
It is easy to spell good night.
Many ways to spell good night.
Both of these poets were masters at crafting imagery, and all writers can learn from them.
Try adding poetry to your reading list. Study poetic imagery. The more you hear the pattern and flow of well-chosen words the better you can incorporate images into your prose.
This Independence Day when you watch the fireworks, think of these wordsmiths, Sandburg and Lowell. Then remember—
“Poetry surrounds us everywhere, but putting it on paper is, alas, not so easy as looking at it.” (Vincent van Gogh)