33 Lesson 11: Imagery in Poetry

Definition of Imagery

What is imagery? Simply put, it’s a word picture. A writer carefully selects words that create an image in the writer’s mind when they read the words. Those carefully selected words are specific nouns and action verbs. Imagery is captured through the senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell.

Examples of Strong Imagery

For example, read this opening excerpt from “Preludes” by T. S. Eliot:

Author: T. S. Eliot
© 1910

The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o’clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps.

Look again at the poem. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What specific nouns did Eliot use?
  • What action verbs did Eliot select?
  • What senses did Eliot awaken in the reader?

Notice imagery is not directly stating feelings. However, a well-written image can evoke feelings in the reader. For example, read this excerpt from  the poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” also by T. S. Eliot:

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Author: T. S. Eliot
© 1915

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question. . . .

Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

What feeling does Eliot call forth in this excerpt from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”? Notice it is not stated directly.


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