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Punctuation in Poetry: Rules and Common Mistakes

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Punctuation in Poetry

I was just going through the works of Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath. The way they used the punctuations to rightfully convey their intended meaning to the readers was impressive. 

Some poets have always broken the norms and violated the grammatical rules while composing their work, while some had strictly adhered to these rules. 

Punctuations and their importance had been taught to us in our junior years so that we always adhere to these rules while writing prose or poetry.

 Still there are certain punctation errors that are committed by students while they work on their homework answers without any guidance. But before we move on to the punctuation errors let us first know what are punctuations.

Punctuations are the signs that aid the proper reading of a sentence making the meaning clearer. For example: 

Woman without her man is nothing.

Woman: without her, man is nothing. 

In the above two sentences, thought the words written are same yet the use of punctuation at different places changes the entire meaning of the sentence. Therefore the place where you use the punctuation in a sentence is very important.

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The seven commonly used punctuations are as follows:

  • Comma: 

A comma indicates a brief pause, addition of more than one item or phrases, in the sentence. For example: I ate banana, apple and mango.

  • Full Stop:

 A full stop indicates the end of a thought or expression in a sentence. For example: He went to the park.

  • Question Mark:

 This indicates that the statement written is asking a question. For example: Will you go to the party?

  • Quotation Marks: 

Used when we are directly quoting someone’s speech. For example: My mother asked me, “Where were you?”

  • Semi-colon:

 It is used to join two sentences that share a similar meaning but separates a detailed list. For example: She pleaded not to let the man go to the place; it will bring him a shock.

  • Colon:

 A colon introduces details or list of something. For example: I ordered these items: bag, make-up, accessories and shoes.

  • Exclamation Mark :

 Used to indicate string feelings about something. For example: Alas! He is dead.

Now that we have learnt about these punctuations, let’s talk about the rules for punctuations that should be followed while writing poetry. Punctuations in a poetry make the poet’s stance clearer.

 It expands the meaning of a single word. Besides offering pauses, it works to make the poet’s thoughts come out in an organized manner. While you write a poem you must keep following rules in mind:

  • The most common use of punctuation is putting either full stop or comma at the end of a poem:
  • Whose woods these are in think I know.
  • The woods are lovely, dark and deep, 

But I have promises to keep, 

And miles to go before I sleep.

And miles to go before I sleep.

In the above lines the punctuations are offering and end to the idea as well as a brief pause to it. Thus one must not put a full stop at a place where the idea is still continuing.

 Similarly if you put a comma at the place where one thought ends, it will indicate to the readers that you are missing out on something.

  • Remember not to put apostrophe in plural words. This is something that has always troubled students when they work upon their assignments or homework answers.
  •  Apostrophe denotes possession thus must be differentiated from plural verbs. This is not only for poetry but also in general. So if you need help in homework, store this rule in your brain.
  • Capitalize the first letter of each line in a poetry since each line carries its own thought. Do this each time you write a new line except in using enjambment, where the same idea is continued in the next line. For example:

Watching you in the 

mirror I 

wonder what it is…

  • Now remember that you can even write a one whole paragraph in poetry without using any punctuation until and unless your not using punctuations will alter the meaning

Rest all are your own thoughts. Remember it is poetry and its structure depends upon the poet. But then you must not commit certain punctuation errors in this process:

  • Remember not to use too may commas in the poem even when it is not required. People commit this error a lot of times.
  • You may leave punctuating your poetry with a full stop even if your idea continues for the entire paragraph or even the entire poem.
  • Don’t put your title in punctation marks until and unless you have derived your title from some other writer’ work.
  • Remember the difference between its and it’s. the former is used to indicate possession while the latter is used as a simplified version of ‘it is’ or ‘it has’.
  • Remember to leave spaces between your punctuation and the next word. It is an essential element of formatting.

Therefore when you write your poetry keep these rules and the common mistakes in mind. A poet has a flow of thoughts different from that of prose writers. 

The precise and beautiful language used captures the readers’ attention and thus the punctuation used offer a new meaning to the poem. Proper punctuations in the poetry increase the readability of the poem and conveys to the readers what the poet wants to convey. 

What is important is not the rule but what idea poet wants to bring out. Though the rules mentioned have been discussed using poetry in mind, but they may also help in homework, the students who always struggle with them.

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