In every piece of writing, there’s a speaker we’ve come to know as “the narrator”. As you are currently reading these words, there’s a voice guiding you along the page, saying these words to you. The role of the narrator is to move the story along and provide a voice for the sentences of a story or poem.
The narrator takes on many roles, but one thing that stays consistent is their point of view. Regardless of what you read, you are reading from a perspective provided by the author and funneled through the narrator. Different points of view can accomplish different things in writing, such as distancing the audience from the action or fully immersing them in the story.
Let’s take a look at the points of view:
First person point of view uses singular pronouns (like “I”, “me”, and “we”), showing the reader everything through the narrator’s eyes. Examples of poetry in the first person include Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”, and “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke. Most songs you’ll hear are sung in the first person as well.
First person provides an excellent platform for describing the world as you see it. Since the text is written to convey information through the narrator’s eyes, you can capitalize on this and use this point of view to show how you perceive the click of your keyboard or the holes in your shoes. You’re the speaker, so it’s your world to run.
What’s more, you can adopt another persona to craft a poem through their eyes. This can be other people, a place, or an object. I’ve worked with a writer who wrote a lovely poem from a toilet’s point of view. Just because you’re the speaker doesn’t mean you have to be the speaker.
One of the trickier points of view, second person places the reader in the role of the narrator. This means the pronouns consist of “you” and “you’re” and the likes. The best example of second person perspective in writing might be the “Choose Your Own Adventure” style books, where you’re positioned in the text as the protagonist and make decisions on your own. The short story Orientation by Daniel Orozco is another good example, although some first-person comes into play as well.
When done properly, second person immerses your reader into the action and imagery of your poems. With the reader in the driver’s seat, the words tie directly to the reader and force them into a position of observation. It becomes a poem directly about them.
The narrator for this point of view sits outside the main action looking in. Pronouns used in this point of view include “she”, “him”, “they”, and so on. Examples of poems in the third person include “Jabberwocky” and “The Walrus and the Carpenter” by Lewis Carroll.
Third person can be used to distance the reader from the events of the story, creating the opportunity for the audience to sit back and analyze the events as they unfold from an outsider’s viewpoint. You could describe a simple scene and let the readers draw their own conclusions — Ernest Hemingway’s short story Hills Like White Elephants does this effectively.
Limited vs. Omniscient
A limited narrator knows and describes a singular character’s thoughts and feelings, typically the protagonist’s. An omniscient narrator knows everything and everyone, probing into each character’s thoughts and exposing any moment in time or place in the world. Both first and third person can adopt these perspectives.
First person limited offers insight into only the narrator’s thoughts and emotions, while first person omniscient glimpses into the other characters as well. Omniscient is most common when a narrator is telling the story in retrospect, like the character Nick in The Great Gatsby. Nick spends the book looking back and reflecting on something that already happened to him, which grants him the knowledge of other character’s motivations.
In third person limited, the narrator can see everything going on, but might only know the thoughts and emotions of one or two characters. Third person omniscient knows what every character is doing and thinking whenever they want. Omniscient points of view allow you to explore multiple perspectives, while limited points of view allow you to hone in on one character.
When Do We Do?
When determining the proper point of view to use, assess the subject of the poem and the framework in which it’s being examined. Who’s “speaking” or reflecting? Why are they saying this, and why is it important for them to say it? Aside from pronouns, how would the content of the poem change if you switched the point of view? How will the point of view reflect back on the audience?
If you’re feeling stuck on a particular poem, try writing it from another perspective. A good way to think of the different POVs: first person is for your experience, second person is for the audience’s perspective, and third person is for observation.
is a writer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Graduating in May 2020 with a degree in English Literature with a Writing Emphasis, Ian writes comics, poetry, and scripts. He is currently an intern for The Brain Health Magazine and aims to work in the comic publishing industry. In his spare time, Ian plays Dungeons & Dragons, board games, and bass guitar.