As a figure of speech, irony refers to a difference between the way something appears and what is actually true. Part of what makes poetry interesting is its indirectness, its refusal to state something simply as "the way it is." Irony allows us to say something but to mean something else, whether we are being sarcastic, exaggerating, or understating. A woman might say to her husband ironically, "I never know what you're going to say," when in fact she always knows what he will say. This is sarcasm, which is one way to achieve irony. Irony is generally more restrained than sarcasm, even though the effect might be the same. The woman of our example above might simply say, "Interesting," when her husband says something that really isn't interesting. She might not be using sarcasm in this case, and she might not even be aware that she is being ironic. A listener who finds the husband dull would probably understand the irony, though. The key to irony is often the tone, which is sometimes harder to detect in poetry than in speech.

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