Pathetic fallacy is used to describe the attribution of human emotions and actions onto non-human things found in nature, specifically within poetic descriptions. The literary device is a kind of personification that is focused much more closely on the poet’s own emotional state and that which they are describing.
The term was first coined by John Ruskin in the book Modern Painters. It has fallen out of favour by some though as it was originally created to refer to poor, sentimental descriptions, or at least that’s how Ruskin saw them. He used it against poets such as Keats, Wordsworth and Shelley. Nowadays, due to a change in the understood meaning of words such as “fallacy” writers and critics usually use personification to describe this literary technique instead.
Examples of Pathetic Fallacy
The best examples come from moments in which the poet’s tone comes through clearly. For instance, the joy in William Wordsworth‘s ‘Daffodils‘. Take a look at these lines as an example of how he has imbued the nature around him with very human emotions that mirror his own:
The waves beside them danced; but theyOut-did the sparkling waves in glee:A poet could not but be gay,In such a jocund company:
“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”