Examples of Images in Poetry, Fiction, and Nonfiction

Examples of Images in Poetry, Fiction, and Nonfiction

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An image is a representation in words of a sensory experience or of a person, place, or object that can be known by one or more of the senses.

In his book The Verbal Icon (1954), critic W.K. Wimsatt, Jr., observes that the "verbal image which most fully realizes its verbal capacities is that which is not merely a bright picture (in the usual modern meaning of the term image) but also an interpretation of reality in its metaphoric and symbolic dimensions."


  • "Far beyond her, a door standing ajar gave on what appeared to be a moonlit gallery but was really an abandoned, half-demolished, vast reception room with a broken outer wall, zigzag fissures in the floor, and a vast ghost of a gaping grand piano emitting, as if all by itself, spooky glissando twangs in the middle of the night."
    (Vladimir Nabokov, Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle, 1969)
  • "In the shallows, the dark, water-soaked sticks and twigs, smooth and old, were undulating in clusters on the bottom against the clean ribbed sand, and the track of the mussel was plain. A school of minnows swam by, each minnow with its small individual shadow, doubling the attendance, so clear and sharp in the sunlight."
    (E.B. White, "Once More to the Lake." One Man's Meat, 1942)
  • "Mr. Jaffe, the salesman from McKesson & Robbins, arrives, trailing two mists: winter steaminess and the animal fog of his cigar, which melts into the coffee smell, the tarpaper smell, the eerie honeyed tangled drugstore smell."
    (Cynthia Ozick, "A Drugstore in Winter." Art & Ardor, 1983)
  • "That woman sitting on the stoop of an old brownstone house, her fat white knees spread apart-the man pushing the white brocade of his stomach out of a cab in front of a great hotel-the little man sipping root beer at a drugstore counter-the woman leaning over a stained mattress on the sill of a tenement window-the taxi driver parked on a corner-the lady with orchids, drunk at the table of a sidewalk cafe-the toothless woman selling chewing gum-the man in shirt sleeves, leaning against the door of a poolroom-they are my masters."
    (Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead. Bobbs Merrill, 1943)
  • "I should have been a pair of ragged claws
    Scuttling across the floors of silent seas."
    (T.S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," 1917)
  • "The train moved away so slowly butterflies blew in and out of the windows." (Truman Capote, "A Ride Through Spain." The Dogs Bark. Random House, 1973)
  • "It is time for the baby's birthday party: a white cake, strawberry-marshmallow ice cream, a bottle of champagne saved from another party. In the evening, after she has gone to sleep, I kneel beside the crib and touch her face, where it is pressed against the slats, with mine."
    (Joan Didion, "Going Home." Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968
  • He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
    Close to the sun in lonely lands.
    Ringed with the azure world, he stands.
    The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
    He watches from his mountain walls,
    And like a thunderbolt he falls.
    (Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "The Eagle"
  • "Among the strangest illusions which have passed like a haze before my eyes, the strangest one of all is the following: a shaggy mug of a lion looms before me, as the howling hour strikes. I see before me yellow mouths of sand, from which a rough woolen coat is calmly looking at me. And then I see a face, and a shout is heard: 'Lion is coming.'"
    (Andrei Bely, "The Lion"
  • "The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
    Petals on a wet, black bough."
    (Ezra Pound, "In a Station of the Metro")
  • "Eva rolled up to the window and it was then she saw Hannah burning. The flames from the yard fire were licking the blue cotton dress, making her dance. Eva knew there was time for nothing in this world other than the time it took to get there and cover her daughter's body with her own. She lifted her heavy frame up on her good leg, and with fists and arms smashed the windowpane. Using her stump as a support on the window sill, her good leg as a lever, she threw herself out of the window. Cut and bleeding she clawed the air trying to aim her body toward the flaming, dancing figure. She missed and came crashing down some twelve feet from Hannah's smoke. Stunned but still conscious, Eva dragged herself toward her firstborn, but Hannah, her senses lost, went flying out of the yard gesturing and bobbing like a sprung jack-in-the- box."
    (Toni Morrison, Sula. Knopf, 1973
  • "In summer the granite curbs starred with mica and the row houses differentiated by speckled bastard sidings and the hopeful small porches with their jigsaw brackets and gray milk-bottle boxes and the sooty ginkgo trees and the banking curbside cars wince beneath a brilliance like a frozen explosion."
    (John Updike, Rabbit Redux, 1971)


  • "Images are not arguments, rarely even lead to proof, but the mind craves them, and, of late more than ever."
    (Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams, 1907)
  • "In general, emotional words, to be effective, must not be solely emotional. What expresses or stimulates emotions directly, without the intervention of an image or concept, expresses or stimulates it feebly."
    (C.S. Lewis, Studies in Words, 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, 1967)

Images in Nonfiction

  • "Instinctively, we go to our store of private images and associations for our authority to speak of these weighty issues. We find, in our details and broken and obscured images, the language of symbol. Here memory impulsively reaches out its arms and embraces imagination. That is the resort to invention. It isn't a lie, but an act of necessity, as the innate urge to locate personal truth always is." (Patricia Hampl, "Memory and Imagination." I Could Tell You Stories: Sojourns in the Land of Memory. W.W. Norton, 1999)
  • "In creative nonfiction you almost always have the choice of writing the summary (narrative) form, the dramatic (scenic) form, or some combination of the two. Because the dramatic method of writing provides the reader with a closer imitation of life than summary ever could, creative nonfiction writers frequently choose to write scenically. The writer wants vivid images to transfer into the mind of the reader' after all, the strength of scenic writing lies in its ability to evoke sensual images. A scene is not some anonymous narrator's report about what happened some time in the past; instead, it gives the feeling that the action is unfolding before the reader." (Theodore A. Rees Cheney, Writing Creative Nonfiction: Fiction Techniques for Crafting Great Nonfiction. Ten Speed Press, 2001)


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