Personification is most appropriately used in descriptive or narrative writing. Personification is often employed in poetry, as well as more lyrical fiction and nonfiction. It’s fairly rare to use personification in an essay or report, although the use of figurative language can be a nice way to catch the reader’s attention in the introduction to any piece of writing. It’s important to keep in mind that personification can be much more than just a way to add some decorative touches to your writing. When used properly, personification can invite more emotion, humor, and truth into a piece of writing. By giving human qualities to something we don’t expect to be human, you allow your readers to make surprising new connections and begin to see the world a little bit differently.
Among the various artifices which poets have employed in order to produce that novelty which is essential to a high degree of pleasure or surprise, none is more remarkable than the exhibition of new forms of animated beings, endowed with peculiar powers and qualities, by which they are rendered actors in the scenes into which they are introduced. Of these, there are two principal species; the one, comprising those supernatural beings which derive their origin from popular superstition or philosophical doctrine, modified by the poet's imagination; the other, consisting of creatures merely of poetical invention, formed, by means of the process called personification, from abstract ideas of the mind. Of these last, Addison, in one of his elegant papers "On the Pleasures of the Imagination" (Spectator, No. 420), speaks in the following manner: "There is another sort of imaginary beings, that we sometimes meet with in the poets, when the author represents any passion, appetite, virtue, or vice, under a visible shape, and makes it a person or an actor in his poem." To this enumeration, however, might have been added some abstract ideas personified; such as nature, time, death, sleep, and the like, which equally come under this head of poetical creation. Of such, then, it is the purpose of the present Essay to treat; and it is the manner in which these fictitious personages are formed, rather than the propriety of their introduction into the poem, that I mean at present to consider; not excluding, however, some remarks on their immediate agency; which, in fact, may be regarded as part of their description and character.
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Personification - Examples and Definition of Personification
Each of the following passages contains one or more examples of personification. Either by yourself or with others, first identify these and then explain their meaning and purpose in the context of the passage. (To read the complete essay, click on the highlighted title that appears in parentheses after each passage.)
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John Aikin might be fairly described as the foremost critic in England at the time these essays appeared. He was an innovator in the sense that he took on new topics and applied the methods of verbal criticism to modern writers. Here he proposes a simple methodology for classifying poetical personifications: "Either a simply human form is drawn, impressed in a super-eminent degree with the quality or circumstance intended to be personified; or a creature of the fancy is exhibited, the character and design of which is expressed by certain typical adjuncts or emblems. The first of these may be termed a natural, the second, an emblematical figure. From the union of these two modes, a third, or mixed species is produced" p. 407.
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In the first of an anonymous, ten-part series published in the Monthly Magazine 1798-99, John Aikin defines his subject and uses examples from ancient and modern poetry to illustrate "natural" personification. In this series of essays Spenser is discussed more frequently than any other writer. The passages selected include many of the more famous descriptions in the Faerie Queene, usefully compared to the sources and later analogues in British literature. Since the personifications are organized by topic, the essays form a useful encyclopedia of key passages frequently adapted by later imitators.