Visual Imagery

Definition of Visual Imagery

Imagery is one of the most-used literary devices that allows the writer to sketch or paint the pictures of his choice in the reader’s mind. It triggers the senses and produces a picture in imagination. In literature, it helps the reader to feel the situations, emotions, setting, and characters more deeply and profoundly. Visual imagery helps to form a mental image and evoke imagination. The writer uses visual qualities i.e., color, shape, light, pattern, even shadows, etc., to allow the reader to better perceive the glimpse of his suggested vision. It helps the writer to engage the reader more actively in the text. In short, it opens a whole new world in front of a reader to explore. You can read about imagery here –

Visual Imagery In Poems

In poetries, visual imagery plays a major role. It helps the poet to intensify the impact and strength of his words. Furthermore, visual imagery beautifies the language and leaves a long-lasting impression in the reader’s mind. Some examples taken from well-known poems are given below.

Prelude by T.S. Elliot’s

On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps

In ‘Prelude’ Elliot brings forth clear images of the wintry evening in the reader’s mind with minute details. It also includes the scene on the street with lights, smoke, and terrible conditions seen by the speaker.

Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost’s

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

The entire scene of ‘snowy evening’ is brimming with visual images of snow. The poet also gives us the visual imagery of the woods and the lake during the winter season, especially when the sun has gone down.

Summer Night by Alfred Tennyson

Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;
Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk;
Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font:
The firefly wakens: waken thou with me.
Now droops the milk-white peacock like a ghost,
And like a ghost she glimmers on to me.
Now lies the Earth all Danaë to the stars,
And all thy heart lies open unto me.
Now slides the silent meteor on, and leaves
A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me.

In this Alfred Tennyson has made great use of visual imagery. The beautiful description through this literary device enhances the beauty of “summer night” as we see the vivid visuals of fireflies, starlit sky, and nature during summer.

Kubla Khan by S. T. Coleridge

The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where we heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.

Here the attractive and appealing description of the dome that is floating on the river waves is one of the best examples of visual imagery in poetry.

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by 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.
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

The first and the last stanza of this poem is rich with visual imagery.  The poet has used the imagery in an impressive way that strikes strongly and appealingly to our visual senses as well as the others. The readers can visualize the meadows, and flowers and experience peace.

Visual Imagery In Shakespearean Work

William Shakespeare is one of the best authors who has inspired many literary works. The visual imagery that is presented in Shakespeare’s works has an outstanding impact on their absolute performance and evokes strong feelings in the reader’s and the beholder’s minds.


  • Is this a dagger which I see before me the handle towards my hand?

  • “Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty! Make thick my blood; stop up the access and passage to remorse. Come, thick night, and pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell, That my keen knife see not the wound it makes, Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark, To cry ‘Hold, hold!’ – Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy

  • “Never shake thy gory locks at me” Macbeth to Banquo’s ghost.

  • This is the very painting of your fear” Lady Macbeth to her husband.

The above-given examples from Macbeth are the proof that Shakespeare had used his descriptive visual aids in his language to trigger and charge the reader emotionally, such as seeing the dagger in one’s hand, Lady Macbeth’s murderous intent on killing the King, Banquo’s hair and dreadful looks, and fear on Macbeth’s face.

The Tempest

  • …of his bones are coral made
    Those are pearls that were his eyes
    Nothing of him that doth change
    But doth suffer a sea-changeInto
    something rich and strange…”

This play is also one of the masterpieces of Shakespeare that is rich in visual imagery. These lines have the most captivating and bewitching visual imagery that we can see as it shows the enchanting land with its ethereal quality as described by Ariel.

Visual Imagery In The Bible

In literature, visual imagery can be found in many places. The Bible is one of the best examples of literature with rich literary devices. Especially the old testament is full of images and visual impressions to enhance the depth of the topic and theme, some examples are as follows.

  • Your word is a lamp to my feetand a light to my path. (Nun)

  • For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. – Hebrews 4:12:

  • “Is not my word like fire,” declares the LORD, “and like a hammerthat breaks a rock in pieces?” – Jeremiah 23:29

  • Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does. – James 1:22-25

The lamp is used here as an image of God’s revelation and knowledge. Here the Bible and the words are described as a double-edged sword. Here the fire of knowledge is enough to melt or smashes away the stony heart into true repentance of sin. So the hard stony heart turns into the heart of flesh and blood. In an up-given verse, the “mirror” is an image used for an insight view of a man.

A Few More Examples Of Visual Imagery

You can also use visual imagery in daily conversation helps the writer to show not only tells. The range of this imagery can be from objects to something unusual.

  • James took the torn and faded leather-bound diary from Sonia. As he opened the cover, dried rose petals fell on the ground like dust.

  • Ashely leaned back slowly on her soft, pink couch, holding her sugary crystal drink. She loved watching the sun setting down as the water shimmered in shades of orange, red, and gold.

  • Tucker carelessly flipped through the pages, while eating a spoonful of yogurt, with chin in his hand, he looked at the heading of today’s newspaper on Page 5. He opened his mouth in shock, sat up straight, and took off his glasses.

Effects Of Visual Imagery

No doubt visual imagery links with the perceptual processes and helps to improve memory. It has a better deep impact on the human brain to recall images. Sometimes it can be treated as a stress balancing tool; it helps the writer to calm the reader through his pictorial details.

“The soul never thinks without an image.” –Aristotle

In short visual imagery helps the writer to bring every detail to life that he wants to show. It gives a realistic touch to a piece of writing and draws the reader’s interest. It makes the writing more functional and effective through its direct impact. Lastly, it is “the art of showing not telling”.