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What Is Symbolism in Poetry

Symbolism in poetry can be derived from nature, beliefs, animals and universe to signify people as well as the feelings, thoughts and ideas of individuals.

It does not only add a different flavor to the writing but also triggers the readers to extract different meanings from it. So, it does not matter what the poet has thought of something while writing down the poem, because at the end of the day, it’s you who would add meaning to it. Hence, to enrich the essence of poetry, symbolism is used by different poets.

Use of Symbolism:

Basically, different poets used symbolism in poetry for different purposes. And each of the purposes carries a different meaning of symbolism.

Conceal deeper meaning:

Symbolism in poetry simply refers to symbolizing something that is not highlighted in the piece but still has been emphasized through a medium. And that medium is a symbol. With the use of a symbol, poets depict about stuffs indirectly while concealing deeper meaning.

Add Emotion:

Symbolism add an emotional tone to a tale, that creates a lasting impression on readers. For instance, in Macbeth by William Shakespeare’s, the guilt-ridden Lady Macbeth has been brutalized by a bloodspot on her hands that she cannot wash clean after killing King Duncan. The torture stirs the emotional state of the reader which the spot of the blood represented.

Add imagery:

Symbolism help in adding visual elements to convoluted themes. A 1995 poem ‘A Dog Was Crying To-Night in Wicklow Also’ by Seamus Heaney has used the image of burnt wood getting disappeared into the smokes. It simply depicted the notion of dead human moving out of others’ consciousness.

Connect themes:

Different poets use color as an emblem of something to associate it with the latter. It does not only symbolize a particular matter but also connects the theme to it. Just like how Robert Burns has used red to signify love in a poem called A Red, Red Rose.

Define characters:

Symbolism in poetry can be used to express the attributes of the characters. For instance, Percy Bysshe Shelly represented the moon as a symbol of unrequited love and loneliness in the poem ‘To the moon.’ It talked about all the people out there feeling lonely around the crowd and their one-sided love just by symbolizing a moon.

Symbolism in different poetries:

The Rain by William H. Davies

I hear leaves drinking rain;

I hear rich leaves on top

Giving the poor beneath

Drop after drop;

This a sweet noise to hear

These green leaves drinking near


William has used rain as an emblem to show the class differences in society in this piece. As the rain drops on leaves, it’s the upper ones that get more advantages from it just like how the higher class of the society gets. The piece has lines stating the droplets rolling down to lower leaves making them get fewer benefits from rain. This clearly shows how the class discrimination goes on and poorer people are left with nothing but the leftover provided by the rich people.

Wild Aster by Sara Teasdale

In the spring I asked the daisies

If his word were true,

And the clever, clear-eyed daisies

always knew

Now the fields are brown and barren,

Bitter autumn blows,

And of all the stupid asters

Not one knows


This poetry speaks about the season and age in parallel. The daisies and spring have been used to represent youth. The time of blossoming and bliss always looks beautiful. It gives you a positive vibe about everything surrounding you. Then comes autumn that associated with the brown barren field symbolizing the development of age. Finally comes the winter indicating the end of life. The term bitter has been used here to symbolize the acceptance of the end of youth and its spirits.

The Pasture by Robert Frost

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;

I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away

And wait to watch the water clear,

I may:

I shan’t be gone long.—You come too.

I’m going out to fetch the little calf

That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young,

It totters,

when she licks it with her tongue.

I shan’t be gone long.—You come too.


In this poem, the pasture is regarded as the symbol of the world. Cleaning the pasture spring referred to the purification of oneself from sins. Raking the leaves away meant to clear the sins away that lie inside the heart. Waiting to watch the water clear indicated to wait unless the heart clears all the sins from it.

His Confession by Archpoet

Seething over inwardly

With fierce indignation

In my bitterness of soul,

Hear my declaration.

I am of one element,

Levity my matter,

Like enough a withered leaf

For the winds to scatter.


The withered leaf has been used as an emblem of old age and approaching death in this poetry. The wind is used to represent the countless destructive power of confusing nature and how much power is enough to scatter everything. Archpoet has compared himself with a withered leaf here which is at the mercy of nature.

Ah! Sunflower by William Blake

Ah! Sunflower, weary of time,

Who countest the steps of the sun?

Seeking after the sweet golden clime

Where the traveler’s journey is done;


In the piece written above, the sunflower has been used to represent humans while the sun represents life. The lines are basically stating about a human’s life showing how the cycle of their lives goes on. The stanza talks about the way humans walk on the same tracks generation after generation, the tracks that the previous ones had walked.

Daffodils by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

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 this poetry, the daffodils represent rebirth or the new beginning. It has been associated with the spring which is stated to be the season of new rising of life. Such flowers are stated to be the first ones to bloom after winter. The dancing and fluttering in the breeze indicate the way they welcome spring.

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