Poetry Facts

The Beauty of Typography in Poetry

Last Updated: October 21, 2022

In many forms of media, typography is commonly used in designs and other visuals to draw the public’s attention. Yet have you realized that poets also employ typography in their work? Is it only to capture the audience’s interest like the way designs and visuals do?

Let’s read on for more detailed information regarding typography in poetry including:

What is typography in poetry?

Definition

Typography in poetry, also known as graphic elements in poems, refers to the sort of punctuation and capitalization, the length of verses, the placement of phrases, and even blank space.

These components contribute to a poem’s “shape” or “image”, making a visual concrete poem. In this type of poetry, the author intends to communicate through both graphic patterns of verses and the interpretation of words in a traditional order.

typography in poetry

Influences of typography in poems

Typography not only affects the visuals of poems but also emphasizes their messages. For the audience, not only are they readers of the poems but also viewers of the pictures.

  • Viewing the evocative picture created by how the words and lines are organized on the page, the audience would see a classic poem of higher aesthetic value. They can also perceive a bit of the verse’s conceptual idea even without reading a single word.
  • Besides, when composing, poets frequently employ typographical clues to modify or strengthen meanings of words or other literary components such as meter or rhythm. As a result, readers can better comprehend the ideas they aim to communicate.
An example of the influence that typography has on poetry
An example of the influence that typography has on poetry

Elements of typography and their effects in poetry

Line length

A line is a very basic unit forming a poem. The design of verses in books is related to the length of their lines: lengthy and slender, brief and broad, or a shape all its own. As a matter of fact, line length would impact the meaning of words within them, as well as the sound and rhythm when the piece of poetry is read.  

  • A brief line keeps the reader reading slowly and adds tension.
  • A long line shortens the time for reading and heightens the senses.
  • On the other hand, standard size lines (6–8 phrases) are more balanced and effective when emotion or sentiment isn’t the primary impression authors want to achieve.

A typical illustration of this is Haiku poems. There are 3 lines in those works, each of which comprises a specific number of syllables (5-7-5). Being short and concise, they contain tension and enhance readers’ imagination.

Punctuation

The rhythm and content of a verse can also be affected by how a poet employs typographic elements such as commas, periods, and capitalization.

The most frequent way for a writer to close a line is to punctuate solely at its end. Authors of visual concrete poems, however, might disrupt the flow of a line by moving the breaks.

Take Caesura as an example technique; it happens when a writer inserts punctuation in the middle of a sentence rather than at the closing point. This exerts the greatest influence on rhythm and content as it can put a different emphasis on the line. Let’s compare:

“The man slept again.”

versus “The man slept. Again.”

Previously, the man might simply go to bed. But by introducing the caesura, the focus is given on his laziness or tiredness.

Another typical technique of this is Enjambment, in which the poet keeps verses going on without pausing; rather than end-stopping any line. This is to narrow the gap between the sounds of verse and prose, resulting in a work that flows freely and highlights unanticipated rhythms and phrases, like in this example:

“And then hopped sidewise to the Wall

To let a Beetle pass.”

(“A Bird Came Down the Walk” by Emily Dickinson)

Capital letter

Usually, capitalization in writing follows specific sets of rules. However, this is not always the case. A capital letter is also a typographic unit that can be used with creativity for other purposes.

Thanks to capital letters, poets can draw focus on a particular theme for symbolic impact, or they can call attention to a subject that recurs throughout the writing. Capitalizing a word or phrase in a poem may lend it an enhanced source of strength, causing the reader’s interest to be directed to it.

Let’s take a look at:

“And then he drank a Dew

From a convenient Grass

And then hopped sidewise to the Wall

To let a Beetle pass”

(“A Bird Came Down the Walk” by Emily Dickinson)

As can be clearly seen in the midst or at the end of the above lines, “Grass,” “Dew,” and “Beetle” typically commence using upper case letters. Thus, the poet emphasizes the value of nature. To put it in other words, nature is held in high regard in this work.

Word position and spacing

Usually, when composing verses, poets need to choose carefully which words to use and when to use them. This is because not only the phrases themselves but also the particular spots they are arranged in would impact the rhythm of poems.

Word position, which shows the relationship between words and ideas, is another typical typographical pattern. In many cases, changing word placement helps develop curiosity or alter the focus.

Let’s consider these examples:

“He arrived home and went to bed”

versus “Arriving home, he went to bed”  

Take note of how the changing word placement improves the line’s rhythm. Obviously, because we don’t know what’s coming until further in the line, placing “arriving” just at the top of the verse develops our curiosity.

Word position would also show different shapes of the line and structures of poems.

A good example of this is a work of George Herbert named “Easter Wings”. The piece’s typography is designed to resemble wings and the verse represents an image of birds. The stanzas were printed sideways on two pages, showing that the creature is soaring upward with its organ of flight spread out.

"Easter Wings" by George Herbert
“Easter Wings” by George Herbert

There is no denying that this looks just like a photograph. Therefore, not even reading a single word, readers might grasp the imagery of physical and spiritual rebirth.

Examples of typography in poetry

E.E. Cummings poems

E.E. Cummings is a notable author who is famous for visual concrete works. He employs most typographical elements including line length, space and punctuation, and poem shape. The poet is described to “free the word from its grapheme, and put its formal, visual, and phonetic elements into focus.”

Some examples of typography in E.E. Cumming poems are:

  • “Me up at does”

Each sentence is only four lines long, giving the poetry a jagged appearance that conveys the subject’s sentiments about what he did. Though no phrases in the verse express his sense of guilt directly, the idea is conveyed clearly based on how the poem is written. Since his thinking is fragmented and inconsistent, the rhyme is broken up.

me up at does by ee cummings
“Me up at does” by E.E. Cummings
  • “I have found what you are like”

Our mind sees this poetry through a whole different lens because of the way it was written. We can almost grasp the concept of the woods stumbling and singing. Even if it isn’t portraying a genuine scenario, we get the impression that we can see it and that it is real.

“I have found what you are like” by E.E. Cummings
“I have found what you are like” by E.E. Cummings

“In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound

Poet Ezra Pound was an advocate in the movement of imagist poetry. Many believe “In a Metro Station” to be a typical illustration of typography in poetry. The poem is brief, has no verbs but emphasizes graphic spacing instead, providing the reader with an image of a passing train.

“The apparition of these faces in the crowd:

Petals on a wet, black bough.”

The poem was initially printed with spaces between the two lines to simulate train tracks and highlight the verse’s flow. Pound makes an implied comparison between the scene of faces going through the station and a lovely vision of nature, underlining the beauty of even the most inconsequential of events.

The Altar by George Herbert

The Altar by George Herbert
The Altar by George Herbert

George Herbert is another poet known for metaphysical writings. The poem is shaped like an altar, depicting the metaphorical process of making an altar out of one’s own heart.

Final thoughts

All in all, it goes without saying that typography in poetry such as line length, punctuation, capitalization as well as word and space position, is a beautiful mixture of visuals and words. This, in the end, levels up both aesthetic and literary values among written artistic works.  

More interesting poetry articles:

Share this article

Table of Contents

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

Sponsored Articles