Tone in Poetry: Understanding the Mood and Attitude of a Poem
What is tone in poetry or poetic tone? Simply simply, tone describes a poem’s atmosphere and attitude. It is the manner in which the poet expresses their sentiments and emotions through their words and line structure. The tone of a piece might range from humorous to melancholy and everything in between. It is an essential feature of poetry since it helps to convey the poet’s point of view and creates a better understanding and connection to the poem.
In this blog post, we will explore the concept of tone in poetry and provide 20 examples of tone in action. But first, let’s take a closer look at what tone is and how it is used in poetry.
What is Tone in Poetry?
Tone in poetry is similar to tone in everyday conversation. It is the manner in which the poet expresses his or her sentiments and emotions through their words and line structure. It is the overall mood or atmosphere established by a poem, which can be affected by the poet’s choice of words, rhythm, and structure.
For instance, a poet may employ a light, humorous tone in a poem about the innocence of childhood, whereas a deeper, more sombre tone may be applied in a poem about loss or sadness. Depending on the subject matter and the poet’s intended message, the tone of a poem can also alter and change throughout.
How to Identify Tone in Poetry
Identifying the tone of a poem can be difficult, particularly for people who are new to poetry reading and analysis. When attempting to define the tone of a poem, there are a few main characteristics to consider.
Word choice: Pay attention to the words that the poet uses. Certain words and phrases can help to convey a particular mood or emotion. For example, words like “laugh,” “giggle,” and “smile” might suggest a light-hearted or playful tone, while words like “sad,” “mourn,” and “grieve” might suggest a more sombre tone.
Rhythm and structure: The way in which a poem is structured and the rhythm of the lines can also help to convey the tone. A fast-paced, energetic poem might suggest a more upbeat or lively tone, while a slow, measured poem might suggest a more contemplative or melancholy tone.
Imagery and symbolism: The images and symbols that the poet uses can also help to convey the tone. For example, the use of light and dark imagery might suggest a contrast between hope and despair, while the use of water imagery might suggest a sense of renewal or cleansing.
Examples of Tone in Poetry
Now that we have a better understanding of what tone is and how it is used in poetry, let’s take a look at some examples of tone in action.
“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost: This poem is often interpreted as a contemplation on the choices we make in life and the paths we choose to follow. The tone of the poem is introspective and thoughtful, as the speaker reflects on the choices they have made and the potential outcomes of those choices.
“Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas: This poem is a plea to the speaker’s dying father to fight against death and to hold on to life as long as possible. The tone is urgent and passionate, as the speaker implores their father to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot: This poem is a monologue in which the speaker, J. Alfred Prufrock, expresses his feelings of inadequacy and insecurity as he contemplates approaching a woman he is attracted to. The tone of the poem is self-deprecating and despairing, as Prufrock laments his own shortcomings and fears rejection.
“The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot: This long and complex poem is a meditation on the aftermath of World War I and the feelings of despair and disillusionment that many people were experiencing at the time. The tone is fragmented and disjointed, reflecting the speaker’s sense of disconnection and loss.
“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus: This sonnet is a tribute to the Statue of Liberty and a celebration of the ideals of freedom and opportunity that it represents. The tone is proud and uplifting, as the speaker extols the virtues of the statue and the nation it symbolizes.
“The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe: This poem is a narrative about a man who is visited by a talking raven, which he interprets as a symbol of his own impending demise. The tone is eerie and foreboding, as the speaker becomes increasingly disturbed by the raven’s presence and the ominous messages it seems to be conveying.
“The Love Song of M. Edna Pontellier” by Kate Chopin: This poem is a parody of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” in which the speaker, M. Edna Pontellier, takes on the role of the lovelorn and self-doubting Prufrock. The tone is humorous and satirical, as Pontellier pokes fun at the conventions of traditional love poetry and the insecurities of men.
“The Road” by Langston Hughes: This poem is a reflection on the struggles and hardships that African Americans have faced throughout history. The tone is melancholic and resigned, as the speaker reflects on the long and difficult journey that they and their people have been on.
“The Love That Moves the Sun and Other Stars” by Dante Alighieri: This sonnet, taken from Dante’s Divine Comedy, is a tribute to the power of love and its ability to guide and inspire us. The tone is loving and reverent, as the speaker celebrates the transformative power of love.
“The Road” by Robert Frost: This poem is a meditation on the journey of life and the choices we make along the way. The tone is introspective and philosophical, as the speaker reflects on the paths they have taken and the lessons they have learned.
“Hope is the Thing with Feathers” by Emily Dickinson: This poem is a celebration of the enduring power of hope and its ability to lift us even in the darkest of times. The tone is hopeful and uplifting, as the speaker celebrates the resilience and strength of hope.
“Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?” by William Shakespeare: This sonnet is a celebration of the speaker’s love for their beloved, comparing them to the beauty and warmth of summer. The tone is loving and adoring, as the speaker extols the virtues of their beloved and the depth of their love.
“When I Consider How My Light is Spent” by John Milton: This sonnet is a reflection on the speaker’s increasing blindness and their fear of losing the ability to see and experience the world around them. The tone is despairing and melancholic, as the speaker laments their loss and the uncertainty of their future.
“Death, Be Not Proud” by John Donne: This sonnet is a challenge to death, declaring that it has no power over the speaker and that they will not be afraid to face it. The tone is bold and defiant, as the speaker asserts their belief in the power of the human spirit to overcome death.
“The Sonnet-Ballad” by Gwendolyn Brooks: This sonnet is a reflection on the speaker’s relationship with their lover and the complex mix of emotions that it brings. The tone is bittersweet and introspective, as the speaker grapples with the pain and joy of love.
“The Lobster-Quadrille” by Lewis Carroll: In this poem, which is a nonsense poem, the speaker describes a dance performed by lobsters. The tone of the poem is light-hearted and humorous as Carroll uses absurd and humorous imagery to entertain the reader.
“How Do I Love Thee?” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning: In this sonnet, the speaker describes the depth and intensity of her love for her beloved. The tone of the poem is passionate and romantic as the speaker expresses her strong feelings of love and devotion.
Tone is an essential component of poetry because it helps convey the poet’s mood and attitude and allows the reader to connect with the poem on a deeper level. By focusing on the poet’s word choice, rhythm and structure, as well as imagery and symbolism, we can obtain a deeper understanding of a poem’s tone and a greater respect for poetry as an art form. Hopefully, you now have a better knowledge of tone in poetry and how it is utilised to create mood and atmosphere thanks to the examples offered in this blog post.