A catalog is a collection of people, objects, ideas, and other elements in list form within poetry or prose. A writer can make use of this literary device when they want to list out multiple things for a single purpose. As they appear together, they should feel unified, and a reader should be able to understand why they’ve all been written together in the same place. It’s possible to create a catalog in free verse poetry or in a rhymed poem.
Definition of Catalog
Catalogs are not uncommon in poetry and prose, but writers do not use them all the time.
There are very specific moments where it makes sense to list out ideas, places, people, experiences, and more.
Repetition is an important part of the literary device. It occurs as the writer continues to list things and perhaps in how they write more broadly. For example, using “the” or “a” in front of every object/person/idea.
Examples of Catalogs in Literature
Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins
One of the most commonly cited examples of a catalog in poetry comes from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem ‘Pied Beauty.’ This piece takes the form of a curtal sonnet, written in 1877 and published in Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. The speaker spends the poem praising God for everything from trout to falling chestnuts. Here are a few lines of the poem that demonstrate how a catalog of objects/things can be used:
Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
In these lines, Hopkins uses repetition with the word “For” at the start of multiple lines, as well as in his use of alliteration (“Fresh-firecoal,” “falls,” “finches,” “fold,” “fallow). These lines are also a great example of how imagery can be used within a catalog. As Hopkins gathers these images together, he’s triggering more of the reader’s senses. THere’s the sight of color, the warmth of fire, the taste of chestnuts, the sound of water, and more. He’s creating a broad image of “God’s world” that his speaker is so appreciative of.
Explore more Gerard Manley Hopkins poems.
Song of Myself by Walt Whitman
Within ‘Song of Myself,’ Whitman’s long and well-loved free verse poem, the poet makes use of a catalog in order to depict the things he loves and wants to keep in his life for as long as possible. The poem was first published in Leaves of Grass. It is often cited as representing the central tenants of Whitman’s personal philosophy and his poetic ideals. Here are a few lines that demonstrate how he uses catalogs:
Houses and rooms are full of perfumes, the shelves are crowded with perfumes,
I breathe the fragrance myself and know it and like it,
The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.
The atmosphere is not a perfume, it has no taste of the distillation, it is odorless,
It is for my mouth forever, I am in love with it,
I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked,
I am mad for it to be in contact with me.
These lines from the second part of the poem convey the poet’s desire to experience life and freedom in a certain way. He takes great pleasure from the simple things, like scent and touch.
Read more Walt Whitman poetry.
Generally considered to be Rossetti’s best poem, ‘Goblin market’ tells the strange story of two sisters and a group of goblin men. The poem was published in 1862 and focuses on the theme of temptation. There is a great example of a catalog of items at the beginning of the poem when the sisters, Laura and Lizzie, hear the goblin men selling their fruit in the twilight. Some of the lines read:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpeck’d cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
The goblins have a great deal more to say but continue in the same way, trying to tempt innocent passersby into their market. Eventually, Laura succumbs to her desire from some of this fruit, metaphorical or otherwise, and sells a lock of her hair and “a tear more rare than pearl” in order to get some.
Discover more Christina Rossetti poems.
Within the Bible, Specifically within the book of Genesis, there is a record of the descendants of Adam and Eve. It reports the male descendants to Abraham, how old they were and who their sons were. In Genesis 10, there is a great example of a catalog of people. Some of it reads as follows:
This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah’s sons, who themselves had sons after the flood.
The sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshek and Tiras.
The sons of Gomer: Ashkenaz, Riphath and Togarmah.
The sons of Javan: Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim
These are only a few examples of the many times that the Bible includes genealogical outlines and uses a catalog/list to do so.
Related Literary Terms
- Accumulation: a literary device that relates to a list of words or phrases that have similar, if not the same, meanings.
- Imagery: the elements of a poem that engage a reader’s senses. These are the important sights, sounds, feelings, and smells.
- Free Verse: lines are unrhymed, and there are no consistent metrical patterns. But, that doesn’t mean it is entirely without structure.
- Prose: a written and spoken language form that does not make use of a metrical pattern or rhyme scheme.
- Antithesis: occurs when two contrasting ideas are put together to achieve a desired outcome.