Examples of Symbolism in Poetry

Symbolism is to convey the hidden meaning to the reader or listener. It tells us about artistic expression and represents abstract ideas.  A writer can use a person, place, word, action, and object as a symbol. To covey his mood and emotion, the writer uses symbolism. It can be in a visual image or gesture. It helps in creating meanings and emotions in writing. Usually, symbolism contains several layers of meaning, which are robbed in different aspects and concepts. It gives depth to writing that cannot be expressed straightforwardly. It helps the writer to convey his thoughts on multiple levels. Some examples are given below:

Ah! Sun-flower – William Blake

Ah Sun-flower, weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the sun;
Seeking after the sweet golden clime
Where the traveler’s journey is done;

In this poem, the sunflower is used as the symbol for human and the ‘sun’ symbolizes life. These lines are actually about the life of a human being that how the cycle of our lives is going on. How generation after generation man walks on the same tracks which the previous one had passed.

The Rain – William H. Davies

I hear leaves drinking rain;
I hear rich leaves on top
Giving the poor beneath
Drop after drop;
Tis a sweet noise to hear
These green leaves drinking near

In this poem, the poet uses rain as a symbol to show the class difference in society. As the rain falls on leaves, the upper one gets more benefit from it, so is the high class of society. Then the droplets roll down to lower leaves, so they get less benefit from rain, so is the class difference goes on. The rich people give their leftover to poor people.

Wild Aster – Sara Teasdale

In the spring I asked the daisies
If his word were true,
And the clever, clear-eyed daisies
always knew
Now the fields are brown and barren,
Bitter autumn blows,
And of all the stupid asters
Not one knows

In this poem, the poet talks about the age and season in parallel. Spring and daisies here are used as a symbol for youth. The time of blooming and happiness when everything around you looks beautiful. Later the brown, barren field and autumn are symbolic of advancing age, and then the winter comes, which means the time of death. The word bitter is here for the acceptance of the ending of youth and ambitions.

His Confession – Archpoet

Seething over inwardly
With fierce indignation
In my bitterness of soul,
Hear my declaration.
I am of one element,
Levity my matter,
Like enough a withered leaf
For the winds to scatter.

In this poem, the withered leaf is a symbol of old age and approaching death. The wind is a symbol of the incalculable or limitless destructive power of nature and confusion. The poet here compares himself to a withered leaf that is at the mercy of nature.

The Pasture – Robert Frost

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.

I’m going out to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.

Here, the pasture symbolizes the world. ‘To clean the Pasture spring ‘means to purify oneself from sin. Leaves are used here as sins that lie inside the heart. ‘Wait to watch the water clean’ means to wait until the heart clears from sins. ‘It totters when she licks it with her tongue’ means God will send his messenger to guide people.

Daffodils – William Wordsworth

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Here the daffodils symbolize the new beginning or rebirth. This is linked with the spring, which is the time of the new emerging of life. Daffodils are first flowers that bloom after winter. Their dancing is actually the welcoming of spring.

Because I Could Not Stop For Death – Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

In this poem, the carriage is the symbol of death, which suddenly arrives to pick his passengers or the dying person without informing them. In the next stanza, the poet has symbolically described the three stages of man. School is the symbol of childhood. ‘Gazing Grain’ is the symbol for youth, a stage of emotions and ambitions. Then she has given the symbol of ‘setting sun’, which means old age and the end of life.

Ode To Nightingale – John Keats

In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!

The nightingale in the ode is the central image and symbol. The music it produces is the symbol of beauty, the way of communication between man and nature. According to Greek mythology, the nightingale is the symbol of love, so Keats has used it for the same also.

A Red, Red RoseRobert Burns

O my Luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.

In the starting lines of the poem, the rose is used as a symbol in two different ways. First, it is used as a symbol of love as considered in many cultures. Different colors of roses have different significance. Red is symbolic of true love. Second, it is symbolic of impermanence as it is short-lived. A ‘newly sprung rose’ which holds a short life, he means to say that this love may only last a little while.

To The Moon – Percy Bysshe Shelly

Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven, and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless
Among the stars that have a different birth,-

In this poem, the poet has symbolized the moon for its loneliness and unrequited love. He describes it as a ‘wandering companionless’. The moon is alone in the sky, along with the clusters of stars as a man. It goes on an endless journey alone.