What is it?

Personification is a figure of speech that gives human qualities to objects, animals, or ideas.

Why is it important?

Personification connects readers with the object that is personified. Personification can make descriptions of non-human entities more vivid, or can help readers understand, sympathize with, or react emotionally to non-human characters.

How do I do it?

Give human-like qualities or emotions to inanimate entities or non-human beings.

Example 1:

"And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon."

—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "Paul Revere's Ride"

Note: Longfellow gives the windows the human qualities of sight and thought in order to convey the ominous mood of the moment.

Example 2:

"When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath,"

—Emily Dickinson, "There's a certain slant of light"

Note: Dickinson gives the landscape and shadows human qualities (listening and holding their breath), in order to bring to life the effects of the sunlight on her surroundings.

More about personification


Personification Definition

Personification is a figure of speech in which a thing, an idea or an animal is given human attributes. The non-human objects are portrayed in such a way that we feel they have the ability to act like human beings.

For example, when we say, “The sky weeps” we are giving the sky the ability to cry, which is a human quality. Thus, we can say that the sky has been personified in the given sentence.

Common Examples of Personification

  • Look at my car. She is a beauty, isn’t it so?
  • The wind whispered through dry grass.
  • The flowers danced in the gentle breeze.
  • Time and tide waits for none.
  • The fire swallowed the entire forest.

We see from the above examples of personification that this literary device helps us relate actions of inanimate objects to our own emotions.

Personification Examples in Literature

Example #1

Taken from L. M. Montgomery’s “The Green Gables Letters”,

“I hied me away to the woods—away back into the sun-washed alleys carpeted with fallen gold and glades where the moss is green and vivid yet. The woods are getting ready to sleep—they are not yet asleep but they are disrobing and are having all sorts of little bed-time conferences and whisperings and good-nights.”

The lack of activity in the forest has been beautifully personified as the forest getting ready to sleep, busy in bed-time chatting and wishing good-nights, all of which are human customs.

Example #2

Taken from Act I, Scene II of “Romeo and Juliet”,

“When well-appareled April on the heel
Of limping winter treads.”

There are two personification examples here. April cannot put on a dress, and winter does not limp and it does not have a heel on which a month can walk. Shakespeare personifies the month of April and the winter season by giving them two distinct human qualities.

Example #3

A.H. Houseman in his poem “Loveliest of Trees the Cherry Now” personifies the cherry tree,

“Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.”

He sees a cherry tree covered with beautiful white flowers in the forest and says that the cherry tree wears white clothes to celebrate Easter. He gives human attributes to a tree in order to describe it in human terms.

Example #4

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson employs personification in her poem “Have You Got A Brook In Your Little Heart”.

“Have you got a brook in your little heart,
Where bashful flowers blow,
And blushing birds go down to drink,
And shadows tremble so?”

The bashful flowers, blushing birds and trembling shadows are examples of personification.

Example #5

Katherine Mansfield wrote in her short story “How Pearl Button Was Kidnapped”,

“Pearl Button swung on the little gate in front of the House of Boxes. It was the early afternoon of a sunshiny day with little winds playing hide-and-seek in it.”

It personifies wind by saying that it is as playful as little children playing hide-and-seek on a shiny day.

Example #6

William Blake personifies Sunflowers in his poem “Two Sunflowers Move in a Yellow Room”.

“Two Sunflowers
Move in the Yellow Room.

‘Ah, William, we’re weary of weather,
said the sunflowers, shining with dew.
Our traveling habits have tired us.
Can you give us a room with a view?”

The flowers are depicting a human characteristic of weariness caused by the weather. In a human way, they make a request to the poet to put them in a room with a window with plenty of sunshine.

Function of Personification

Personification is not merely a decorative device but it serves the purpose of giving deeper meanings to literary texts. It adds vividness to expressions as we always look at the world from a human perspective. Writers and poets rely on personification to bring inanimate things to life, so that their nature and actions are understood in a better way. Because it is easier for us to relate to something that is human or that possesses human traits. Its use encourages us to develop a perspective that is new as well as creative.