What is irony? The Bedford Introduction to Literature defines irony as "a literary device that uses contradictory statements or situations to reveal a reality different that what appears to be true." In short irony involves a conflict of some sort between two things. In modern literary studies, there are at least five types of irony, but this paper will only concern four types and some select poems that utilize them.
The first type of irony and probably most widely used is situational irony. This occurs when there is a difference between what is expected to happen and what actually happens. One of the countless literary works to use this form of irony is a poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson called "Richard Cory". In it the speaker describes Mr. Cory as a slim, handsome, neatly dressed, educated man who happens to be very rich. He seems to have it all and the speaker is totally charmed by his good fortune. However, the final line of the poem changes all of that. "And Richard Cory, one calm summer night, Went home and put a bullet through his head." This reveals that contrary to outside appearance, Mr. Cory was not at all a happy man. The irony exists in that we, as readers, expect to hear nothing but fine things about this man, and instead he takes his own life. .
A second type of irony used quite a bit and also experienced numerous times throughout our everyday life, is what is known as verbal irony. Verbal irony occurs when a person says one thing but actually means the opposite. One such poem to utilize this type of irony is "AD" by Kenneth Fearing. It is set up like a newspaper advertisement rather than conventional poetry. This "ad" expresses the need for men, no matter the physical or mental condition, the requirements are practically nothing and the wage of pay is death. This really is an anti-war poem aimed to protest against the cruel acts of war and the many victims it takes. It seeks to achieve this by not saying what it means to say in hopes of getting readers to turn away from any aspect of war.