Personification is a technique in which human characteristics are applied to inanimate, non-living objects. This is typically achieved through the use of a metaphor. These characteristics often include specific feelings or emotions.

Why use Personification?

  • Creating Empathy: The use of personification adds depth to a piece of writing, helping a reader to better understand something non-human because it is easier to relate to something that is human, or which possesses human traits.
  • Adjusting perspective: Through focusing on the potential feelings of an inanimate object, readers are able to shift their perspective and focus in order to help understand something they may not have appreciated previously.  This doesn’t have to be the inanimate object – it could be the environment or the situation it is a part of.
  • Creativity: Personification is a typically fun and accessible way to explore thoughts and feelings.  It can be highly effective for explaining complex situations, or for children.  The technique could also be integrated into an allegory or fable.

Examples of Personification

William Blake uses personification in ‘The Sick Rose’ (English Romantic Verse) so as to adjust perspective.

Blake uses the idea of a rose to symbolise innocence and purity, with the personification of the object helping to ensure that the reader can shift their understanding to the rose in order to interpret and appreciate Blake’s viewpoint.  How he uses this personification also highlights the way that metaphors integrate into the technique.

“O Rose thou art sick.”

Personification is also utilised in ‘Chainsaw Versus the Pampas Grass’ (Poems of the Decade) by Simon Armitage. The technique helps to place emphasis on the descriptions used, and also to create empathy.

This is a striking example of personification, and comes in the final stanza of the poem. Sibilance adds to the already emotive use of “seethed” to show a burning passion and emotion that the chainsaw has come to posses, further enhancing the effect of personification.  Readers may feel intimidated and apprehensive as a result, but would also be able to better understand the concept of the chainsaw in the poem with the emotions being applied to it.

“the chainsaw seethed”

“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth also includes this technique, which was effective for many Romantic poets as it helped the reader to better understand and appreciate nature. Here, he describes how “golden daffodils” move in the wind.

A host, of golden daffodils; // … // Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

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