“Love? What in the world does love mean? How am I supposed to understand what you mean when you say love?” This was, more or less, said to me, out of great exasperation, by my first poetry professor my sophomore year at DePaul. Though what he actually said was much more lengthy and colorful, you still get the picture. Merely mentioning love in a poem cannot guarantee that you will create the image in the reader’s mind that you are attempting to achieve since love is an abstract concept that means different things to different people. It is by using concrete language, things that are tangible and can be held onto, that will allow you to solidify the abstract and allow the reader to feel what you want them to.
Concrete and abstract language is not just an issue within poetry. Believe me, I’m no poet but I still need to be aware of the words I’m using within papers and stories. One of the most common things I come across while working with writers, as well as in my own writing, is using abstract language to describe or explain an abstract concept. The problem with this is that it does not result in a well explained idea that everyone can understand. On the other hand, using concrete language to explain more abstract concepts does, which is why learning the difference between these two things is key wh en it comes to any kind of writing.
In creative writing you can use sensory detail to discuss the abstract. Writing similes and metaphors that compare love to the way something feels, smells, looks, sounds or tastes like allows a reader to relate the concept to themselves, rather than continue to try and understand it from afar. In terms of more academic writing, things like justice, freedom, rights, beauty, fairness, right and wrong, moral and immoral, all are abstract; their meaning depends on what they are being compared to, on what context they are in and the other words they are surrounded by. This is why it is important to provide strong examples and evidence within papers; they function to provide additional meaning to whatever it is you are discussing. If you are talking about freedom, you need to give an example that successfully shows what freedom means. This can vary, though, if you are talking about the freedom America seems to value as a country, or the kind of freedom you get by being released from jail.