Apostrophe in poetry, literay device & its definition

An apostrophe is a literary device in which the poet addresses an absent person, an abstract concept, or an inanimate object as if it were a living, present entity. It involves directly speaking to someone or something that cannot respond, as if they were capable of understanding and responding to the poet’s words.

Read also: Personification in poetry

Types of apostrophe:

Absent or Dead Person Apostrophe:

An “Absent or Dead Person Apostrophe” is a specific type of apostrophe in poetry where the poet addresses a person who is absent, deceased, or otherwise not physically present as if they were alive and capable of responding. This literary device allows the poet to express emotions, thoughts, or memories to someone who cannot directly receive them.

When using the Absent or Dead Person Apostrophe, the poet may express longing, grief, admiration, or any other sentiment they feel toward the individual. It serves as a way for the poet to communicate with the person they are addressing, even though that person is not there to hear or respond.

Example of an Absent or Dead Person Apostrophe:

“O Captain! My Captain!” by Walt Whitman

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;

                         But O heart! heart! heart!

                            O the bleeding drops of red,

                               Where on the deck my Captain lies,

                                  Fallen cold and dead.

In this famous poem by Walt Whitman, he addresses the American president Abraham Lincoln, who had been assassinated shortly before the end of the Civil War. Whitman uses the Absent Person Apostrophe to express his grief and admiration for the late leader, as if he were addressing him directly.

In using the Absent or Dead Person Apostrophe, poets can create a powerful emotional impact, as it allows them to engage with their feelings and memories of the individual they are addressing. It also gives readers insight into the poet’s personal connection with the absent or deceased person, making the poem more relatable and emotionally resonant.

God or Deity Apostrophe:

A “God or Deity Apostrophe” is a literary device in poetry where the poet addresses a divine being, a god, or a deity directly as if they were present and capable of understanding and responding. This form of apostrophe is a way for the poet to express their feelings, thoughts, questions, praise, or requests to the divine entity.

Poets have used this literary device throughout history as a means of seeking guidance, expressing devotion, contemplating the mysteries of existence, or exploring the relationship between humanity and the divine.

Example of a God or Deity Apostrophe:

“Ode to the West Wind” by Percy Bysshe Shelley


O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,

Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead

Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,

Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,

Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,

Each like a corpse within its grave, until

Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth, and fill

(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)

With living hues and odours plain and hill:

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;

Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh hear!


Thou on whose stream, mid the steep sky’s commotion,

Loose clouds like earth’s decaying leaves are shed,

Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,

Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread

On the blue surface of thine aëry surge,

Like the bright hair uplifted from the head

Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge

Of the horizon to the zenith’s height,

The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge

Of the dying year, to which this closing night

Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,

Vaulted with all thy congregated might

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere

Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: oh hear!

In this excerpt from Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind,” the poet directly addresses the West Wind as a powerful force of nature, using the apostrophe to invoke its presence and appeal to its destructive and transformative powers.

By using the God or Deity Apostrophe, poets can elevate their language, express their spirituality, and explore profound philosophical or metaphysical themes. It allows for a more personal and intimate connection with the divine, inviting readers to contemplate the mysteries of the universe and their own beliefs.

Nature Apostrophe:

A “Nature Apostrophe” is a literary device in poetry where the poet addresses elements of nature, such as animals, plants, the sun, the moon, the sea, or other natural phenomena, as if they were living beings capable of understanding and responding. This poetic technique allows the poet to personify elements of nature, giving them human-like qualities and emotions.

By using the Nature Apostrophe, poets can create a sense of intimacy and connection with the natural world, as if they are engaging in a conversation with it. It often serves to express admiration, wonder, or contemplation about the beauty and power of nature.

Example of a Nature Apostrophe:

“Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey” by William Wordsworth

Five years have past; five summers, with the length

Of five long winters! and again I hear

These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs

With a soft inland murmur.—Once again

Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,

That on a wild secluded scene impress

Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect

The landscape with the quiet of the sky.

The day is come when I again repose

Here, under this dark sycamore, and view

These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,

Which at this season, with their unripe fruits,

Are clad in one green hue, and lose themselves

‘Mid groves and copses. Once again I see

These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines

Of sportive wood run wild: these pastoral farms,

Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke

Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!

With some uncertain notice, as might seem

Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,

Or of some Hermit’s cave, where by his fire

The Hermit sits alone.

In this famous poem by Wordsworth, the poet addresses the natural landscape around Tintern Abbey, personifying the elements of nature, such as the waters, cliffs, and groves, as if they were active participants in the scene.

The Nature Apostrophe allows poets to convey a sense of wonder, reverence, and interconnectedness with the natural world, inviting readers to appreciate the beauty and majesty of the environment around them. It can also be used to reflect on human emotions and experiences by drawing parallels with the ever-changing and powerful aspects of nature.

Functions of apostrophe

Apostrophe serves several important functions in poetry and literature, enhancing the poet’s expression and creating a deeper connection with the reader. Some of the key functions of apostrophe include:

  1. Personification: Apostrophe allows poets to personify or humanize non-human entities, such as objects, abstract concepts, or elements of nature. By addressing these entities as if they were living beings, the poet endows them with human qualities, emotions, and actions. This personification brings life and vividness to the subject matter, making it more relatable and engaging for the reader.
  2. Emotional Expression: Apostrophe provides a means for the poet to express intense emotions, whether it’s love, grief, admiration, longing, or frustration. By directly addressing someone or something, the poet can convey their feelings more passionately, making the emotional impact of the poem stronger.
  3. Rhetorical Effect: Apostrophe can be used as a rhetorical device to emphasize a point or to add a sense of urgency or drama to the poem. By speaking directly to an absent or non-human entity, the poet can capture the reader’s attention and heighten the overall effect of the poem.
  4. Exploration of Philosophical and Spiritual Themes: When poets use apostrophe to address deities, the divine, or elements of nature, it provides an opportunity to explore profound philosophical and spiritual themes. It allows the poet to contemplate the mysteries of existence, the relationship between humanity and the divine, and the role of nature in the human experience.
  5. Establishing Intimacy and Connection: Apostrophe fosters a sense of intimacy between the poet and the subject being addressed. It can create the impression that the poet is engaging in a personal conversation with the absent or non-human entity, strengthening the bond between the two and inviting the reader to share in that connection.
  6. Heightening Imagery: Through apostrophe, poets can imbue their descriptions with vivid imagery and sensory details. By addressing an absent person or object, the poet can draw attention to specific attributes, characteristics, or symbolic meanings, enriching the overall imagery of the poem.

Some of the functions of apostrophe include

  1. Personification and Vivid Imagery:

Apostrophe frequently involves personification, breathing life into non-human entities and allowing them to experience human emotions and actions. As a result, objects, nature, and abstract ideas gain relatable qualities, creating vivid imagery that resonates with readers. Through apostrophe, writers bring a heightened sense of realism and emotional resonance to their narratives, enriching the literary experience.

  1. Emotional Intensity and Expression:

Apostrophe is an effective tool for expressing intense emotions, such as love, grief, admiration, or despair. By directly addressing a subject, writers can convey their feelings passionately, making the emotional impact of their works more profound. This heightened emotional intensity fosters a stronger connection between the writer and the reader, evoking empathy and understanding.

  1. Symbolism and Allegory:

Apostrophe often lends itself to symbolic or allegorical meanings. By addressing an abstract concept or personifying an object, writers can imbue their work with deeper layers of meaning, inviting readers to interpret the text on multiple levels. The symbolic use of apostrophe opens the door to profound philosophical and spiritual reflections within literature.

Examples from Literary Masterpieces:

  1. William Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”:

In this iconic poem, Wordsworth employs apostrophe to address the concept of immortality. He explores the loss of innocence and the connection with nature that humans experience as they grow older. The poet’s direct address to the abstract idea of immortality allows for a contemplative exploration of human existence and the passing of time.

  1. John Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale”:

Keats’ ode is a splendid example of how apostrophe can create a deep emotional connection with the subject. The poet addresses a nightingale, using the device to explore themes of mortality, escapism, and the beauty of nature. Through apostrophe, Keats expresses a profound desire to escape the pains of human existence and merge with the songbird’s eternal melodies.

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