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What is hyperbole in poetry and what does it mean?

So, nothing really happens straight in literature right? By straight, I mean direct, at once, or to the point. Therefore, if it does not have some description or some comparisons or is a little overbearing or flowery, what is the point of reading any work of literature? Well, none because at the end of the day no matter how much we have to research or analyze for schoolwork, we read for our own sake. We read to cater to our inner faculties. Moreover, reading soothes us. And if the same love story that the writer had written for 5 pages lasted only for 2 paragraphs would hardly ever be interesting or loving. So, being extra matters in literature. It caters to our feelings very well and we can relate to things. Therefore, hyperbole in poetry is one of those devices that make a poem extra. We will see how.

However, before going forward with the details of what exactly a hyperbole in poetry is or how we must use it, there are a few other things to know. So, let us begin with figures of speech. As we have already seen, in literature comparisons and descriptions become very important. Hence, figures of speech help one attain this. So, there are various figures of speech like metaphor, simile, alliteration, anaphora, and so on and so forth. For example, we use both metaphor and simile to establish a comparison. So, if the comparison is direct where we use words like “like ” or “as”, it is a simile. On the other hand, if the comparison is indirect where we do not use the terms that establish the comparison, it is a metaphor.

Similarly, hyperbole in poetry is also one such figure of speech. It also establishes a kind of comparison but is different.

Hyperbole in poetry meaning

So, we have already talked about how often in literature we need to be extra. Therefore, when it comes to hyperbole in poetry, that is what it does- being extra. Yes, well let us explain this. Often when we read a poem, we find unreal or surreal comparisons. For example, let us consider Daffodils. All of us must have read it. So, at one place in the poem, William Wordsworth writes, “ten thousand saw I at a glance”. Therefore, literally, it means he saw ten thousand daffodils at once. However, that is not humanly possible. First, there cannot be ten thousand daffodils by the banks of a lake. Moreover, it is impossible for him to count. It is like counting stars. So, how does he know? Well, he does not. This is exactly what hyperbole in poetry does.

Therefore, this is just his way of telling us there were plenty of daffodils. So, they were uncountable. Hence, he exaggerates. Due to this exaggeration, the reader understands the volume of both the daffodils as well as the impact they had on his mind. This is because you can only exaggerate something when you feel a lot about it. Hence, this is the purpose of hyperbole in poetry. So, in a poem, where you do not have the space you have in a story for description, a hyperbole in poetry perfectly does the job. Therefore, it exaggerates the current subject with some well-established tropes for a better understanding.

Hyperbole in poetry definition

So now we are well aware of what hyperbole in poetry means. Therefore, let us now take a quick look at the formal definition of hyperbole in poetry. So, as per the Britannica literature encyclopedia, hyperbole is a figure of speech that is an intentional exaggeration. Moreover, this exaggeration can be for simple emphasis or for a comic effect. Hence, in love poetry, you encounter a lot of hyperboles. So, this is because they help in expressing the intensity of a lover’s passions and admiration for his beloved in unreal quantities. Moreover, this is the classic trope of love in literature. So, when you use this exaggeration in poetry, you call it hyperbole in poetry.

However, hyperbole in poetry or just in general can also produce a humorous effect. So, in some cases, if the hyperbole in poetry cannot create the dramatic effect that the poet originally intended to, it may seem very ridiculous. However, this could be both intentional and unintentional. If it is unintentional, it shows the poet’s incapacity and destroys the work of literature. On the other hand, if it is intentional, it shows the poet’s mastery that he wanted to create some fun on purpose. For example, in the Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare creates scenes in the second act with the clown Launcelot Gobbo. So, this Gobbo uses unnecessary, meaningless, and silly hyperboles and comparisons. However, one at once knows that he wrote this on purpose and that fun was all that he had intended.

Therefore, understanding this difference becomes very important when it comes to hyperbole in poetry. Moreover, in general, you will mostly find hyperbole in poetry for political or rhetorical uses.

So, in short, it creates an elevated effect with deliberate exaggeration.

Hyperbole in poetry in a sentence

So, hyperbole is a figure of speech as we have already seen. Therefore, when it comes to hyperbole in poetry, it also means the same thing. So, what we need to understand is that hyperbole in poetry does not mean the entire poem. Therefore, it is still one word or one sentence where the poet uses the hyperbole. However, there may be many hyperboles throughout the poem. But, all of them mean something different. So, we need to consider each of them separately. Therefore, at once, when we consider one hyperbole in poetry, we are in reality considering that sentence alone.

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However, we also need to place the sentence in the context of the poem and see if that makes any sense. But, that is the second step. Let us take a look at some examples of hyperbole in poetry. This would help us understand hyperboles in a better way.

Hyperbole in poetry example

So, hyperbole in poetry is very common because it is one of the favorite poetic devices of the poets. Staring down the lane, we find an extensive application of hyperbole in poetry. The kind of ornamentation that the hyperbole in poetry does might vary from poem to poem. This is because every poet has their own unique style of applying hyperbole in poetry. Moreover, different poets might want to use completely different kinds of hyperboles for meaning the same thing. And that is exactly where the beauty of literature lies. You get to see the same thing but with different eyes every time you read a different poem. So, now let us take a look at some of the most famous hyperbole in poetry that you can find in the English language.

Daffodils by William Wordsworth

So, we have already encountered one hyperbole in poetry. However, we already know that one poem can easily have more than one hyperbole. So, Daffodils is one of the most popular poems you will ever encounter in this language. And what better? It is an active site of hyperbole in poetry. Therefore, the poet applies it quite a few times throughout the poem. However, this is important because it helps the reader to understand the hugeness of his feelings for the daffodils. So, he almost feels that the scene is heavenly. To you and me, it might not be so. He understands this and hence goes way extra. So, he writes-

“Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in a never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.”

The Iliad by Homer

Well, you might be surprised to see The Iliad in the discussion of hyperbole in poetry. However, epics are actually very long poems. Moreover, it is impossible to ever know who originally wrote the epic. However, we believe that Homer wrote it just because he was the first person that we are aware of who transferred the story from generation to generation. So, Homer did not write the Iliad. It came down as per the oral tradition. Therefore, this means that Homer narrated the whole poem to his audience orally over the span of a generation.

So, when one is orally narrating, one has to memorize the full poem. Hence, here figures of speech become very essential. So, when one compared it with regular things or something surreal, it was easy to memorize the plot of the epic because it is very complex and long. Hence, hyperbole in poetry can be an excellent memory device. Hence, throughout the epic, there are many such instances of hyperboles. So, one example can be the time when the god of war, Mars cries out-

“ as loudly as nine or ten thousand men can.”

To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell

Andrew Marvell is a metaphysical poet. So, these poets flourished in 17th century England. Moreover, such poets were famous for way too much exaggeration and out-of-the-way, unconventional comparisons between different things. Therefore, it should hardly come as a surprise that hyperbole in poetry was one of their absolute favorites. One of the greatest metaphysical poets was John Donne. So, he had compared the cry of lovers separating to the noise of an earthquake. Such a hyperbole in poetry was called a metaphysical conceit. Therefore, we are placing this example here to give you an idea about the intensity of their comparisons. So, in “To his Coy Mistress”, Marvell writes-

“A hundred years should go to praise

Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;

Two hundred to adore each breast;

But thirty thousand to the rest.”

The Concord Hymn by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Most of us already know that Emerson was one of the key figures who founded the United States of America. So, he was one of the most important faces of the American Revolution that occurred in the 17th century. Now, one of the key tendencies back then was to invite more white people to come and stay in the new land. Therefore, in “The Concord Hymn”, he asks the new settlers to come and write the history of this new land. So, this is because he felt there were no civilized people here. He considered the blacks and natives to be savages. However, when he tells this, he erases the existence and history of the tribal people. And, that is exactly what he wants to do. Here, he is talking about Concord in Massachusetts. Moreover, it was important because this was the center of American culture and education.

Therefore, when he does so, he exaggerates. He writes-

“Here once the embattled farmers stood

And fired the shot heard round the world.”

 

A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns

Love is one of the most popular themes in poetry across any language. The reason behind this is very simple. We love to read poetry when we are in love or when we want to feel loved. Moreover, most poets have written while being in love.

However, love can be of various kinds- for friends, for your pet, for nature, and so on. Yet, amongst all these types of love, both people and poets have an uncontrollable attraction for romantic love that only exists between two lovers. Hence, Poets have always very generously used hyperbole in poetry to show how they feel and the hugeness of it. Moreover, another function of hyperbole in poetry is to describe the beauty of the beloved or the muse. This is mostly the physical beauty. Therefore, this they believe shows the depth of the love that they feel. Hence, in his love sonnet, Robert Burns tells how he will miss his “bonnie lass” using the same technique. He writes-

“Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,

And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;

I will love thee still, my dear,

While the sands o’ life shall run.”

Hyperbole in poetry Animals

So, Animals is a poem written by Walt Whitman that unifies plurality. Therefore, the poet feels at one with different species of the animal world. So, he breaks his ties with humankind and tries to find solace in an animal world where there is no human selfishness. Hence, in the process, he uses a number of literary or poetic devices. Therefore, hyperbole in poetry is also one of them. You can find one when he says-

“lived thousands of years ago.”

Hyperbole in poetry FAQs

 

How does hyperbole affect a poem?

Ans. Well, there might be two ways how hyperbole in poetry affects it. So, in one case it might be a device to incite humor or comic relief. On the other hand, the poet might also use it to make the readers understand the huge volume of his feelings or simply the way in which he feels. It depends entirely on how the poet has used it.

How does hyperbole develop the theme?

Ans. So, hyperbole in poetry can accentuate the thoughts and ideas of the poem. Moreover, it better presents the images and ultimately dramatizes the entire text. Moreover, they also actively help in adding an amusing tone. Hence, it is valuable because with it poets can pen down something very simple in a somewhat extraordinary way to show the depth of things.

What hyperbole was used in the poem voice of rain?

Ans. Therefore, in this poem, the rain is personified. This is because there is a clear voice in the rain. There is also a hyperbole in poetry. So, the line ‘Bottomless sea’ enlists it. A sea cannot be bottomless.

What is the origin of the word hyperbole?

Ans. The word “hyperbole” comes from Latin and also from Greek hyperbole. So, this would mean “exaggeration” or “extravagance”. However, if you translate it literally, it would mean “a throwing beyond.” Therefore, this makes sense of the use of hyperbole in poetry.

Who invented hyperbole?

Ans. So, it dates back to the 5th century B.C. Hyperbolus lived in Athens. So, he was a politician who often roused rabbles. Moreover, like politicians today, he used to make very exaggerated promises and claims. Therefore, these false notions mobilized people into an utter frenzy. So, hyperbole might have some link with this man because of the obvious connection. However, no such link has been proven and we do not exactly know who or when started using the word “hyperbole”.

Is hyperbole a rhetorical device?

Ans. Well yes, you can probably call hyperbole a rhetorical device. Moreover, it is probably one of the most popular literary and rhetorical devices that people know of. It is basically a figure of speech or a literary device. However, hyperbole in poetry depends a lot on the poet’s usage. If he put his feelings or anxieties into it, it can surely be a rhetorical device. For example, Wordsworth’s ten thousand daffodils or comparing the band of daffodils with the stars in the milky way is definitely rhetorical.