Descriptive Writing: Poetry
In descriptive writing, writers use vivid, descriptive details to make sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures, and feelings come alive for readers. Descriptive writing is used in many types of writing, including expository, narrative, and persuasive.
Poets are writers that use a lot of description. There are many types of poetry and this unit covers two: Haiku and Prose. In all types of poetry, writers choose their words carefully, communicating a lot of meaning in very few words. A thesaurus can be particularly helpful when choosing words to communicate the exact meaning.
Haiku is a traditional Japanese poetic form. Most haiku share certain characteristics. They are short—only three lines long. They describe a profound moment in a few simple, yet vivid words, and they mention nature in some way. They are very simple and direct. Haiku are often associated with the changing of the seasons. They also contrast something.
Basic Structure of Haiku
- Only three lines
- The three lines have only 17 syllables
- The first line is 5 syllables
- The second line is 7 syllables
- The third line is 5 syllables
- Vivid yet simple language
- Often describe a profoundly peaceful moment
- Show a contrast
- Mention nature
Model Text 1: Descriptive Writing (Poem)
Here are two haiku by the 17th-century Japanese poet Matsuo Kinsaku, better known as Basho. Please note that, because they have been translated, these haiku do not follow the 17-syllable structure.
my C dream A goes wandering
over B a field of dried grass
B a frog jumps in
C sound of water
Notice how simple and direct the poems are. Other poets might write much more about frogs singing, but Basho simply describes the splash of a frog hitting the water. The poems clearly mention nature, and imply a season. They also contrast something—sickness and a dream wandering; the quiet of the pond with the noise of the frog. Finally, both haiku have a feeling of sabi, a Japanese word meaning “peaceful sadness.” Basho’s haiku create mental pictures. Readers can easily imagine feeling ill but dreaming that they are wandering in a field, or sitting alone by a pond, surrounded by the sounds of nature.
Writing a Haiku
Haiku can be a lot of fun to write. In this simple, short poetic form, writers can describe their environment, explain how they feel about something, or present a funny situation. To write your own haiku, just follow the steps below.
Step 1 Choose a topic. Traditional haiku focus on nature, but they can be about anything. It is best if you have first-hand experience with the subject of your haiku. A lot of modern haiku discuss city life, work, or school. Others are about something the writer loves, hates, is thrilled by, is anxious about, or anything else that comes to mind.
Still in a meeting
boss talks, nightfall approaches
dreams of the weekend
Step 2 Decide on the form of your haiku. In Japanese, a haiku must have exactly seventeen on, or segments of sound. To write haiku in English, writers count each syllable as one segment of sound and follow the 5-7-5 pattern.
Summer has arrived
see children running outside—
fresh smell of cut grass
Step 3 Include a contrast. The haiku that begins Still in a meeting contrasts work with dreams of the weekend. Summer has arrived contrasts something that you see (children running) with something that you smell (fresh cut grass). Some writers use special punctuation, such as a dash (—) or semicolon (;) to show the contrast in their poem.
Step 4 Include a reference to the season, if possible. For example, if the haiku mentions “cherry blossoms,” the reader knows it is spring. If the haiku mentions snow, the reader pictures winter. Depending on the topic you choose, you may want to eliminate this step.
Step 5 Practice, practice, practice! The more haiku you write, the better you will get at it. It also helps to read a lot of haiku. Be sure to read a variety of types— traditional, contemporary, serious, sad, funny, and so on.
Model Text 2: Descriptive Writing (Prose Poem)
Prose poems look like regular text (prose) that you might find in a story or essay. They have a theme—or main idea of what the writer is describing. They contain full sentences, but use poetic techniques—simile, metaphor, sensory descriptions, strongly evocative and vivid language, sound devices—to bring a person, place, thing, or event alive. They are usually short—one paragraph—although there is no exact limit on how long a prose poem can be. The topic or theme is usually set in the first sentence.
Similes and Metaphors
Similes and metaphors describe someone or something by comparing it to someone or something else that seems quite different, but has some similarities.
Similes contain the words like or as:
The moss against my cheek feels like another face.
Metaphors do not contain the words like or as, so the comparison is implied rather than directly stated:
I hear the sound of stones and bones.
Sound devices create a musical effect for the reader—for example, words like hiss that sound like the sound being described. Other types of sound devices include rhyming and repetition:
I hear the sound of stones and bones, of marching feet and dancing feet.
Sensory details help the reader see, hear, smell, taste, or feel what the writer describes:
I have no feeling at all in the submerged parts of my body …