Personification is a literary devices that entails the projection of human characteristics onto inanimate objects in order to create powerful imagery. But, not only objects, other less physical things such as forces of nature (love and death are examples) as well as animals can be transformed through personification.
Personification – What do “human characteristics” mean?
Well, the phrase means as much or as little as the writer wants it to. The “characteristic” could be an action that normally only humans are capable of. For example, we can look to William Wordsworth’s ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.’ In the following lines, Wordsworth creates an image of the daffodils moving as only humans can.
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
In the last line of this stanza the daffodils are said to “dance”. This is a very clear example of personification and also gets to one of the most important things to consider about the device. It is not just human verb-based actions that can be given to the inanimate object, creatures, and forces, but also emotions and motivations.
Poets use the technique in order to convey a particular emotion more clearly, to help the reader understand the entire scene better.
Take a look at this example from Oscar Wilde’s ‘Magdalen Walks’:
And the plane to the pine-tree is whispering some tale of love
Till it rustles with laughter and tosses its mantle of green,
Why do poets use Personification? What’s the point?
Well, In the case of ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ the Wordsworth is interested in helping the reader understand the scene better. He rightly assumed that “dancing” would paint a clearer picture in the reader’s head. But that’s not all, the use of this word, as opposed to another like “shivering” or “quivering,” helps the tone and mood of the text. The poem is lighthearted and wistful, therefore dancing fits in perfectly.
This gets to another important reason that poets use the technique: in order to convey a particular emotion more clearly. This is can be seen in what is likely Emily Dickinson’s best-known poem, ‘Because I could not stop for Death’. In this dramatic and beautiful text, the force of “Death” is personified. Dickinson capitalized the word to give it more power and agency in her world. This can be seen very clearly through the first and second stanzas of the poem.
Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –
In these lines, the reader can see that the image of death acts as a companion to the speaker. Seemingly, a person in his own right who drives a carriage and stops to allow the speaker to embark. Dickinson’s speaker also describes death as taking his time and knowing “no haste.” He is willing to drive casually to their destination.