Vivid language that appeals to one or more of the senses


Both of these are from The Pearl by John Steinbeck:

  • The beach was yellow sand, but at the water's edge a rubble of shell and algae took its place.  Fiddler crabs bubbled and sputtered in their holes in the sand, and in the shallows little lobsters popped in and out of their tiny homes in the rubble and sand.  The sea bottom was rich with crawling and growing things.  The brown algae waved in the gentle currents and the green eel grass swayed and little sea horses clung to its stems.  Spotted botete, the poison fish, lay on the bottom in the eel-grass beds, and the brightly-colored swimming crabs scampered over them.

In this example, the closely observant detail conveys the diversity of life in the seashore setting. The verb forms,“bubbled, sputtered, popped, crawling, growing, waved, swayed, clung…” give motion to the living things catalogued in the passage. They are all gentle verbs, too, which may be intended to give a feeling of tranquility.

  • Kino deftly slipped his knife into the edge of the shell. Through the knife he could feel the muscle tighten hard. He worked the blade lever-wise and the closing muscle parted and the shell fell apart. The lip-like flesh writhed up and then subsided. Kino lifted the flesh, and there it lay, the great pearl, perfect as the moon. It captured the light and refined it and gave it back in silver incandescence. It was as large as a sea-gull's egg.

Here, the imagery of Kino’s actions, four and a half sentences that convey Kino’s physical effort, slows down time before the key moment of the story: when Kino finds the pearl. It is a moment of change in the plot and the mood, and the first image of the pearl, “It captured light and refined it and gave it back in silver incandescence,” introduces the pearl’spower to change everything around it.

Additional Discussion:

This definition from the Hunter College website (1): 

Imagery: The use of pictures, description, or figures of speech such as SIMILES and METAPHORS to visualize a mood, idea, or character.

offers the important idea that similes and metaphors can be used in the creation of imagery.


by Ted Kooser

Slap of the screen door, flat knock 
of my grandmother's boxy black shoes 
on the wooden stoop, the hush and sweep  
of her knob-kneed, cotton-aproned stride  
out to the edge and then, toed in 
with a furious twist and heave,  
a bridge that leaps from her hot red hands 
and hangs there shining for fifty years 
over the mystified chickens,  
over the swaying nettles, the ragweed, 
the clay slope down to the creek,  
over the redwing blackbirds in the tops 
of the willows, a glorious rainbow 
with an empty dishpan swinging at one end.

The metaphor underlined in the center of the poem describes the result of the single action of the poem: the throwing of dishwater from a dishpan into a farmyard. The entire poem is devoted to the image of this action, which is frozen, photographically, with the “bridge” of water hanging in the air.

Why the metaphor? One possible reason is that the idea of a bridge supports the idea of the image, which “hangs there shining for fifty years.” The water is in the shape of a bridge as it flies into the air, and it also is central to a memory, described in the poem, that has presumably persisted for a long time: the bridge is the curve of the water, and the bridge connects the past to the present, metaphorically, as a memory.