Emotions are an integral part of human beings. We emote our way through daily life, through situations; voice our opinion where we see it fit. But that’s just us; what about the things around us that can’t actually speak, but are an important part of our lives? For that, we use personification, a powerful tool that can make even an ordinary bar of soap seem more interesting.
We use personification as a means of giving a voice to things that do not have one, but need one. Things that can tell us an interesting tale if ever they were to possess a mouth. In basic definition, personification is the attribution of human characteristics to inanimate objects. The objects can be anything the writer sees around them, from the pen on the desk to the potted plant in the corner of the room; from the Sun and the clouds to the earth itself. To do so, the writer needs an eye full of imagination and a head full of the right words.
The Effects of Personification
As a whole, I will stress on the three points of reference that you can use to view a poem that employs personification.
Direction of Influence
At the end of the day, it’s a literary work from the soul of a writer or a poet. What they felt when they wrote, is what you feel when you read. So it goes without saying that the route a poem takes, lies solely in the hands of the poet. A great poet will evoke the precise emotions in you, no questions asked. Which is why personification is so important to poetry. We get to see the world through the eyes of the poet. Analyzing the poem will get you what the poet was thinking when they wrote the poem.
For example, “The Sun” by Mary Oliver:
Have you ever seen
in your life
than the way the sun,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon…
It is a brilliant and optimistic example of personification in poetry that can describe the way the Sun can bring joy to our lives, and asks those who refuse to believe in this, whether they are now blind with materialism. In a broader perspective, the poem can be viewed as one that makes you believe that the best forms of joy in life are often the simplest of things, the ones that get taken for granted. They can fill you with joy greater than any material thing could ever hope to fill you with.
And also, the famous “Mirror” by Sylvia Plath,
I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful…
It is a bittersweet poem about how a plain mirror becomes one of the few, if not the only, truthful things in the woman’s life. The poem describes the effect of having to grow older with nothing but failures behind you. It compares the coming of old age to the rising of a ‘terrible fish’, motioning towards the ugliness of her being old, being similar to the ugliness of a fish.
Creating Fiction Using Fact
The novel “A Dog’s Tale” by Mark Twain is a great example of how we can imagine an animal to be just like humans, to better understand their nature. Of course, animal nature varies largely from humans’, but it always helps create a deeper bond between the animal and man. There are also tons of movies like Bambi and Babe that do the same.
The brilliance of personification comes with the thinning of reality and the rise of the imaginary. You can take anything from a spoon or a tree to even the entire universe (all real, inanimate things) and describe them as if they were acting and reacting like humans. The effect may seem fictitious, but a more abstract look at the object being personified tells us how it exists as a whole. A religious form of this is known as ‘Anthropomorphism‘, which means attributing human qualities to God or Gods. This applies to any religion, be it Christianity or Hinduism or Islam. The question of the real existence of God aside, when we pray, we pray for our well-being to God, hailing the God as kind, nurturing and understanding to those who are good. All are characteristics of human behavior. This is one of the reasons for the use of personification in poetry – to help us understand what we did not know earlier. It is the best way to care for, or shun inanimate objects that we revolve our lives around. It helps us realize the gravity of a situation that needs to be taken care of.
A Poem in Personification
The best way to turn someone’s attention to a topic is to make it more appealing. Personification helps us do that. We can turn a lifeless object into one with spirit, soul and thought through personification. This makes the object more interesting to the reader. Without it, describing one’s views on the object will be difficult and bland. For example, “The wall, formidable as ever, mocked our attempts to navigate the roads” is more interesting and poetic than “We hit a dead end”. The inanimate object ‘Wall’ is shown to possess the human characteristic of ‘mockery’. Now, the wall obviously didn’t actually travel there and oppose the person, it is only the way that person sees the wall.
The sights and sounds around us may not be our concern, but it is only human nature to make it our concern. Like a musician loves his instrument, or a botanist loves his greenhouse, a poet uses personification to describe how exactly he loves those things, by doing what he loves most, creating poetry.