How do Poets use Themes?

As we’ve previously defined, the theme in a piece of poetry is the underlying message or feeling the writer wants to convey. It’s the backbone a story is structured around and the thing that appears over and over again throughout the poem (or any other literary work).

It should resonate with the reader and perhaps even teach them something as well, such as a moral lesson. Poets use themes for several reasons. They include:

Conveying a message

Conveying a message is the most important reason that poets use themes. They are a central part of any poem and are included so that a reader is able to take something away from what they’re read. They give the poem a purpose and a reason to come back to it and read it again. It’s often the theme that a reader is left remembering, even more than the events of the story. For example, in one poem like Because I could not stop for Deathby Emily Dickinson, readers are left considering the theme of death. She explores a personified version of death ferrying her to the afterlife, an image that conveys the theme clearly.

Exploring a subject

Often, when a reader determines which theme or themes an author is interested in, they also realize that the author is trying to explore a subject in depth. For example, faith as a theme and subject. An author might spend several stanzas debating the existence of God before coming to the conclusion that they’re going to have faith and continue to put their trust in him. The broader theme of faith runs throughout the poem and is explored from different perspectives in this scenario.

Satisfying a narrative arch

In narrative poetry, satisfying a narrative arch is a part of the poem’s plot. A writer might introduce a new theme, or solidify an old one, when they bring the reader from the beginning of the poem to the end. Consider, for example, a poem that starts with a character seeking revenge. By the time it ends though, they’ve chosen to forgive those they previously hated. Forgiveness becomes a crucial theme in this literary work.

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