Introduction

We continue our look at biblical figures of speech involving comparison. In our previous post, we considered the allegory, which is an extended metaphor—an illustration or narrative featuring characters, a setting, and a brief storyline to teach a moral lesson or spiritual truth by way of representation. Today we consider the figure known as personification.

Personification 

Pronunciation: \ pər-ˌsän-ə-fə-ˈkā-shən \

Personification is the attributing of human characteristics to inanimate objects or abstract realities. It belongs to the sub-group of figures involving resemblance. The things compared are of unlike nature, but the thing to which the comparison is made is always an aspect of human activity, capacity, or personality.

In addition to adding a certain richness, interest, or vividness to the comparison, the use of personification can reveal an author’s attitude toward the object or abstraction being personified. Note that personification is distinguished from anthropomorphism, which is the attributing of human characteristics to other living beings or objects such that they behave and appear as if they are human beings.

Note also that anthropopathism is a specific type of personification, where human emotions are attributed to inanimate objects or abstract realities.

General Examples

•  Time has a way of creeping up on us.

•  The stars danced playfully in the moonlit sky.

•  The words leapt off the page as she read the story.

•  My laptop computer throws a fit [personification with implied anthropopathism] every time I try to use it.

•  The ocean waves lashed out [personification with implied anthropopathism] at the boat as the storm approached.

•  “Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon.” (William Shakespeare)

•  “Because I could not stop for Death, He kindly stopped for me.” (Emily Dickinson)

•  “The conscious water saw its master and blushed [personification with implied anthropoathism].” (Alexander Pope)

Biblical Examples

•  “Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” (Gen 4:10b)

•  “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Ps 19:1)

•  “Let the rivers clap their hands; let the mountains sing together [personification] for joy [anthropopathism].” (Ps 98:8)

•  “When the waters saw you, they were afraid [anthropopathism]; the very deep trembled.” (Ps 77:16b)

•  “Then the moon will be abashed, and the sun ashamed [anthropopathism].” (Isa 24:23a)

•  “Evil will slay the wicked . . . .” (Ps 34:21a)

Additional Resources

The definition at Merriam-Webster.com for personification.

An audio pronunciation guide for the word personification.

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