Emotion in Poetry: Oxymoron

Oxymoron is not a way to call anyone a name. In fact, oxymoron is the poetic device meaning the use of contradictory terms (together) for effect. A Handbook to Literature states that etymologically the word means “pointedly foolish,” that it brings together two contradictory terms that contrast to create sharp emphasis. Examples include cheerful pessimist, wise fool, sad joy, eloquent silence, living death, bittersweet, burning cold, glad mourning.

As with any poetic device, one can use it to add to the imagery of a poem. With a bit of planning, the imagery created by oxymoron can enhance the emotion, too.

Let’s examine how an oxymoron can heighten the emotion of a poem. We could write the following line of poetry: The woman, so racked with pain, couldn’t make a sound. Rather drab isn’t it? Where’s the emotion needed to make the reader “feel” her pain?

Let’s see what can happen with an oxymoron with the same idea:

The pain left her nothing but silent screams

As it twisted her body with endless agony.

If you noticed, the first line also had alliteration in the oxymoron, silent screams.

I actually used a variation of silent screams in a poem.

Cry for Help

Dreary, drab day pressing in on me

until like gray, gloomy clouds filled

to saturation, my tears overflow.

I silently scream for help

That never seems to come.

A tiny ray of sunshine would lift

the load of sorrow that threatens

to swamp my sorrowing soul.

Oh, for the storm to part enough

to let that ray shine on me.

Help me, please help me withstand

this heavy, bloated burden

pressing on my weary mind.

Please give me relief that

only You have ever brought.

Wrap me in Your comfort,

wrap me in Your love

until I can stand and watch

the sunrise break the day

with joy and thanksgiving once more.

copyright 2005 by Vivian Gilbert Zabel

Oxymoron, the use of contradictory terms for effect, can strengthen and enhance your writing. If used sparingly and appropriately, the device can add imagery to writing and aid the emotional effect.