Irony is the use of words to convey the opposite of their literal meaning. It is used throughout poetry and allows the reader to analyze and differentiate what seems, and what actually is. There are different types of irony including verbal, situational, and dramatic. Irony can be used in the titles of poems, or in themes and messages throughout them. There are many ways to interpret poetry, so irony is a powerful way of making a pointed comment or manipulating a reader’s emotions. Verbal irony, sometimes referred to as sarcasm, often occurs in the title of a poem, and is in direct contrast with the contents of the poem. The Unknown Citizen” written by W. H Auden is an excellent example of this. They irony of the title, is that right under it, you read a person’s social security number, followed by the rest of the poem which goes into great detail about specific things in a man life. “When there was peace, he was for peace; when there was war, he went. He was married and added five children to the population, which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation. ” Here lies the discrepancy between the title, and the contents of this poem.
The theme of this poem demonstrates the power of the state, and the powerlessness of an individual. Auden uses irony in the title of this poem to validate the theme. Situational irony occurs when the situation itself contradicts the readers expectations. In the poem “Porphyria’s Lover” by Robert Browning, situational irony is displayed. When the reader interprets the title of this poem, they would most likely expect it to be about two lovers. but when they go on to read the poem, they realize that “the meeting of two lovers ironically results not in joy and passion, but in murder. (501) “That moment she was mine, mine, fair, perfectly pure and good: I found a thing to do, and all her hair in one long yellow string I wound three times her little throat around, and strangled her. No pain felt she, I am quite sure she felt no pain. “(36-42) What the reader expects initially is love, which is demonstrated here by his somewhat gentleness in killing her, hoping she feels no pain, but then followed by the fact that he did murder her, which lovers do not do to each other. Dramatic irony occurs when the reader is aware of more than the character in the narrative.
The reader possibly sees the significance of a characters actions before the actual character does. Again, “Porphyria’s Lover” is a poem that also exhibits dramatic irony. By the end of this poem, the reader is aware that the main character is a psychopathic killer, however, he is completely unaware that his actions were wrong. After he murders Porphyria, believing that he had fulfilled her wish to be with him forever, he “warily oped her lids: again laughed the blue eyes without a stain. And I untightened next the tress about her neck; her cheek once more blushed bright beneath my burning kiss. (44-48) The speaker in in this poem is telling his story in a nonchalant, unemotional manner, while the reader in continuously coming to terms with the fact that the speaker is an upset maniac. Irony can be used in poetry to make a point, or to evoke a particular emotion or reaction. Sometimes it can be hard to identify, but can ultimately change the way you interpret a poem. Irony, in all its forms, has become an important literacy technique. You can see irony in one, two or all three forms throughout one single poem.
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