Both poetry and prose often use motifs to create a cohesive experience for the reader. In this post, we will explore the differences between the two forms of poetry and the motifs they often use.
"What is a Motif?": A Literary Guide for English Students and Teachers
What is a motif?
A motif is a recurrent element in a work of literature, music, or art. It is a general pattern that appears in the composition and can be identified by its shape, form, or content. A motif may be a character, a phrase, a setting, or a motif from mythology.
What is the difference between a form and a motif?
You might be thinking that the difference between a form and a motif is simple: a motif is a recurrent element in a poem, while a form is the specific pattern of words and rhymes that make up a poem. But there is actually a lot of nuance to this distinction, and it can be helpful to think of it in terms of two different ways that a motif can be used in a poem.
The first way is to consider a motif as an idea or a concept that the poet is exploring in their poem. For example, in Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken,” the main motif is the idea of choice. The poet explores this idea by presenting two different versions of the same story, one in which the character goes down the road chosen by fate, and one in which he decides to take a different path.
The second way to use a motif is to consider it as a figure of speech. For example, in Walt Whitman’s “ Song of Myself,” the main motif is the idea of self-expression. The speaker explores this idea by using a variety of different figures of speech, including metaphor, direct address, and allusion.
What are some examples of motifs in poetry?
Some motifs in poetry can include references to nature, love, loss, and death. Other common motifs include symbols and idioms.
How can you identify a motif in a poem?
A motif can be identified in a poem by looking for recurrent ideas, images, or symbols that appear throughout the poem. These ideas can be used to explore a particular subject or theme, or to provide a general sense of the poem’s meaning. For example, in “The Waste Land,” the motif of waste and decay is central to the poem’s overall meaning. Similarly, in “The Catcher in the Rye,” the motif of adolescent angst and confusion is explored in various ways.
What are the benefits of studying motifs in poetry?
Motifs are a recurring and identifiable pattern in poetry. They can help poets structure their poems and make their poems more memorable. Additionally, motifs can provide a framework for interpretation, offering readers a way to explore the poem on a deeper level.
Both forms of poetry address the motif of exile. In The Waste Land, Eliot uses the motif to explore the human condition. In The Odyssey, Homer uses the motif to explore the consequences of Leaving Home.