Personification is the endowment of inanimate objects, animals, or abstract concepts with animate or human-living qualities.

History of Personification

Personification has been used in poetry since ancient times, with Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey as examples. Personification is often used in symbolic poetry or allegory, using human characteristics in animals or inanimate objects to tell a story, teach a lesson, or represent a different or deeper meaning. Personification was heavily used in the morality plays popular in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” the river performs human actions. It is described as running and “meandering with a mazy motion” until it sinks into the ocean, which causes an echoing sound prophesying war. The personification in this poem gives the otherwise natural and random motion of the river a distinct human quality and agency, resulting in a direct association of the river’s emptying into the ocean to a warning of war. 

Other poems that use personification include “Fame is a fickle fool” by Emily Dickinson, “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer, “Home is so Sad” by Philip Larkin, and “The White-headed Woodpecker” by Sean Hill.