Tuesday, April 27, 2010



Some ways to think about word choice— and sound really smart while you're figuring it out!

Purpose: When analyzing the style of either prose or poetry, the opportunity to show off what you know about diction (an author’s word choice) frequently appears. These notes are meant to give you a framework and a vocabulary so that you can analyze and discuss matters of diction with confidence and precision.

When this matters: Whenever you need to do any of the following:

Discuss or analyze how “the language” of a passage or poem achieves some effect.

Analyze the “techniques” or “poetic devices” used to achieve some effect.



Answer a question that specifically mentions the word “diction.”

Two Axes: The term “diction” covers a lot of ground, but here is a somewhat simplified way to approach it. Consider analyzing the diction according to where it falls along the two main axes: (1) Levels of formality, and (2) Literal vs. Figurative, or Connotative vs. Denotative, content.


(1) Levels of formality

Diction can usually be described as one of three “levels” of style:

High or Formal: Dignified, elevated, and perhaps impersonal. Elaborate, or sophisticated vocabulary. In some cases, “high style” can refer to grammar, or syntax, that has been manipulated for an artistic effect—that is, the grammar calls attention to itself. Polysyllabic.

Middle or Neutral: Follows rules of grammar and uses common, unexceptional vocabulary. Think Strunk and White. Grammar and vocabulary is meant to be transparent, easily understood.

Low or Informal: Plain language of everyday use, including slang, jargon, vulgarity, and dialect. Monosyllabic.

(2) Literal vs. Figurative (Denotative vs. Connotative) content

In addition to falling somewhere on the above axis, an author’s word choice will fall somewhere on a scale between the two poles of denotation, a word’s dictionary meaning, or connotation, the more metaphorical or poetic usage of words.

The word itself may be rich with connotations (associated contexts or multiple meanings), and/or the way the word is used may invite consideration beyond the literal, as in a pun or double entendre. And sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.

How to talk about
Levels of Formality

One thing that is really impressive is having a large bank of words that you know that you can use to characterize the different kinds of diction. You can use this stuff when fashioning terribly impressive thesis statements—even from simple observations! That is what the following notes are for. Many of these descriptors can be used to describe syntax as well as diction.

High, Formal Style
Cultured Learned Pretentious Archaic Scholarly Pedantic Ornate Elegant Flowery, etc.

Middle, Neutral Style
Unadorned Plain Detached Simple, etc.

Low, Informal Style
Abrupt Terse Laconic Homespun Colloquial Vulgar Slang Jargon, etc.

How to talk about

Language can also fall somewhere on the following scale. Few word choices are purely denotative, of course, but they are connotative to varying degrees. Speak of a passage as being “highly connotative” or "largely denotative" (or figurative / literal).

Denotative or Literal Language

Exact Journalistic Straightforward

Connotative or Figurative Language

Poetic Lyrical Symbolic Metaphoric Obscure Sensuous Grotesque Picturesque

How to talk about
Everything Else

Abstract/Concrete and/or General/Specific

In addition, an author’s language will fall somewhere on a scale between the poles of abstract and concrete language. That is, do they write about stuff you can hold in your hands (concrete), or stuff you can only hold in your heads (abstract)?

The Music

Do the words sound nice? If so, you can talk about the euphony of the passage.. If it sounds harsh, talk about cacophony and the relationship to meaning. Here is also your opportunity to talk about rhyme, rhythm, onomatopoeia, alliteration, assonance, etc.

Figures of Speech

You know all these, right? Personification, Metaphor, Paradox, Alliteration, etc.

Quiz: if you notice a lot of this, is the word choice more "denotative" or "connotative"?

What else can you think of?

Still More

Ad infinitum

How do I use this great new vocabulary to craft smart topic sentences?

First: Don’t respond to a prompt by saying that the author “uses diction.” You are saying nothing if you say that. Everyone who writes or speaks uses “word choice”—your job is to characterize that word choice.

What I suggest: A convoluted, excruciating, five-step process.

Step One: Levels of Formality

“Do” a close reading on the passage, first identifying any unusual or characteristic words. If there are none, you are probably reading something with a “middle style.”
If words stand out, you should be able to decide whether the passage leans to the high or low styles. If so, pick a snazzy vocab word to describe what kind of high or low diction it is.

Step Two: Connotation

Examine how the words appear to be used—do they seem to be used like poetry, with lots of external, thematic meanings attached, or are they more literal, like a straightforward action story?
Once you decide which way it leans, connotative or denotative, pick some vocab words that characterize the diction more specifically.

Step Three: Everything else

Ask yourself about abstraction/ concreteness, what figures of speech you see, and the sounds of the language.

Step Four: Purpose

Sit back for a moment and ask yourself what purpose the word choice appears to be fulfilling.
For example, you can always say that it sets a tone—just make sure you have some words ready to describe that tone.
Also consider whether the word choice is having an effect on character, symbol/theme, setting, etc.

Step Five: The topic sentence. Let’s play Madlibs!!!

FORMULA: In [name of work], [Author] writes in a [connotation] [level of formality] style. His/her use of [connotation vocab] and [level of formality vocab] language [achieves x purpose].

EXAMPLE: In "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Martin Luther King, Jr., writes in a relatively denotative formal style. His intellectual vocabulary contributes to a dignity of tone, while the lack of euphemism underscores the seriousness of his intention.

from: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:NSwQ09JVRbgJ:www.astabowen.com/DictionAnalysis.0109.doc+prose+analysis+examples&cd=10&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

Connecting Technique to Meaning

Text Analysis Questions

All text analysis questions, whether on the language or literature exam, require students to (1) identify devices and techniques of language, and (2) explain their effect. Usually (though not always), the effect is stated in one question and left to the student on the other. For example, the first text analysis question on the literature exam indicates that the effect of the prose passage is "comic;" students are asked to write an essay analyzing how the author produces that effect. Then, on the second text analysis question, a poem, the instructions read:
...taking into consideration the title of the poem, analyze how the poetic devices convey the speaker's attitude toward the sinking of the ship.
In this case, the student must determine and describe what the speaker's "attitude" is and then identify specific "poetic devices" that convey that attitude.

Similarly, Question 1 of the language exam instructs, "...write an essay in which you analyze the rhetorical strategies President Lincoln used to achieve his purpose." The first step is to explain what that purpose is, then which strategies he employs to achieve it. On Question 2, the effect is stated: Woolf conveys "the lasting significance of these moments from her past;" the student's task is to "analyze how Woolf uses language" to convey this purpose or significance.

The instructions on all of these essay questions emphasize that simply listing techniques, devices, or elements of language is only half the task, just as describing the effect or attitude is only half. The focus is on the interaction of language and meaning, form and content. Students must explain how the author achieves a specific effect or purpose. Students must develop that focus as they write their essays with specific references to the text, regardless of whether that instruction is stated explicitly in the essay question.

from: http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/members/courses/teachers_corner/22321.html#name3

Multiple-Choice Tips

•The Multiple Choice section makes up 45% of exam grade (Essay is 55%)
•You have 60 minutes to answer questions regarding 4-5 passages. That's 12-15 minutes per passage. Bring a watch to keep track of the time.
•Choose the passage that seems easiest to you. Choose a passage that seems hardest to you. Do the easy one first; save the hard one for last.
•You are not penalized for leaving a question blank. (In fact, don't be afraid to skip a passage entirely)
•You should aim to correctly answer 40-45 questions out of the 55 total questions.
•Since you can write on the test, when you come across an question you are unsure of, mark it, skip it and go back to it later. Remember, if you can answer 40-45 correctly, you can leave 10-15 unanswered.

from: http://englsh.wikispaces.com/Multiple+Choice+Review

Writing Tips

Writing Tips

•Brainstorm, but quickly. You don't have a lot of time. Stick to simple outlines, lists or webs. Nothing too fancy.
•Do not summarize. The test writers are quite familiar with the works they are asking you about. Instead, assume your audience is familiar with the piece, and focus on analysis.
•Keep your intros brief and free of BS. Do not DO NOT waste time praising the author or the piece. This is irrelevant to your purpose. Instead, begin your essay by directly addressing the work, provide a clear thesis, and move quickly into your analysis. Avoid announcing your intentions ("This essay will..."); instead, just do it!

Example Introductions:

Standard Example (Paper score=8)

In his epic poem, Paradise Lost, John Milton retells the biblical story of Eve's succumbing to the appealing arguments of Satan. As the story is slowly recounted, the speech of both Eve and Satan reveal their underlying characters through a variety of literary techniques. Through diction, imagery, and tense shift, Eve is exposed as a morally weak individual and Satan is exposed as a manipulator "replete with guile."

Creative Example (Paper score=8)

Fidelity. A word one will never hear on the modern-day Jerry Springer show for both its ludicrous definition and polysyllabic nature. Certain less-than-reputable areas of the media will have people believe that faithfullness and monogamy mean nothing, and everyone falls "victim" to cheating on his or her loved "one." John Donne, however, was apparently centuries ahead of his time then, endorsing such practices in "The Indifferent." The narrator rallies for multiple partners for all, while expressing his views on women — that one is no different than any other (with the exception of the naive faithful and the realistic unfaithful) and men should therefore love indiscriminately. Donne develops his arguments using clever wit, a wide range of knowledge and figurative language.

Extra Important Notes:

Remember your audience. Your audience here is specific: high school teachers and college professors. Your awareness of this should guide your writing. Avoid conversational language, abbreviations, doodles, etc. Keep it academic and professional.

Write in an active voice. For example:
Passive: The dog was run over by the car.
Active: The car ran over the dog.

Work to ensure your paragraphs are connected and smoothly transition into each other. Here are a few good transitional words to consider (after, also, although, as a result, before, but, consequently, doubtless, eventually, finally, furthermore, hence, however, next, on the other hand, perhaps, similarly, therefore, yet)

Quick notes:

•— Avoid Point of View Shifts (don't use you your, we, us, our)
•— Avoid Logical Absolutes (don't say "everybody knows," etc.)
•— Do not use a word if you are unsure of its meaning.
•— Use strong verbs. Instead of "The author shows how..." try "The author demonstrates how..." or "The author illustrates how..."

from: http://englsh.wikispaces.com/AP+Literature+Exam+Review

Monday, April 26, 2010

from "How Fiction Works" by James Wood

Free indirect style is at its most powerful when hardly visible or audible: "Ted watched the orchestra through stupid tears." In my example, the word "stupid" marks the sentence as written in the free indirect style. Remove it, and we have standard reported thought: "Ted watched the orchestra through tears." The addition of the word "stupid" raises the question: Whose word is this? It's unlikely that I would want to call my character stupid merely for listening to some music in a concert hall. No, in a marvelous alchemical transfer, the word now belongs partly to Ted. He is listening to the music and crying, and is embarassed--we can imagine him furiously rubbing his eyes--that he has allowed these "stupid" tears to fall. Convert it back to first-person speech, and we have this: "Stupid to be crying at this silly piece of Brahms," he thought." But this example is several words longer, and we have lost the complicated presence of the author.


In Anita Desai's novel FASTING, FEASTING subtle details that emphasize the exchange-student Arun's extreme discomfort during a typical American past time--going to the beach--dramatize his struggle to adapt to an unknown world.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"The Eve of St. Agnes" (1820) excerpts

Full on this casement shone the wintry moon,
And threw warm gules on Madeline’s fair breast,
As down she knelt for heaven’s grace and boon;
Rose-bloom fell on her hands, together prest,
And on her silver cross soft amethyst,
And on her hair a glory, like a saint:
She seem’d a splendid angel, newly drest,
Save wings, for heaven: - Porphyro grew faint:
She knelt, so pure a thing, so free from mortal taint.


Anon his heart revives: her vespers done,
Of all its wreathed pearls her hair she frees;
Unclasps her warmed jewels one by one;
Loosens her fragrant boddice; by degrees
Her rich attire creeps rustling to her knees:
Half-hidden, like a mermaid in sea-weed,
Pensive awhile she dreams awake, and sees,
In fancy, fair St. Agnes in her bed,
But dares not look behind, or all the charm is fled.


Soon, trembling in her soft and chilly nest,
In sort of wakeful swoon, perplex’d she lay,
Until the poppied warmth of sleep oppress’d
Her soothed limbs, and soul fatigued away;
Flown, like a thought, until the morrow-day;
Blissfully haven’d both from joy and pain;
Clasp’d like a missal where swart Paynims pray;
Blinded alike from sunshine and from rain,
As though a rose should shut, and be a bud again.


Stol’n to this paradise, and so entranced,
Porphyro gazed upon her empty dress,
And listen’d to her breathing, if it chanced
To wake into a slumberous tenderness;
Which when he heard, that minute did he bless,
And breath’d himself: then from the closet crept,
Noiseless as fear in a wide wilderness,
And over the hush’d carpet, silent, stept,
And ’tween the curtains peep’d, where, lo! - how fast she slept.


Then by the bed-side, where the faded moon
Made a dim, silver twilight, soft he set
A table, and, half anguish’d, threw thereon
A cloth of woven crimson, gold, and jet: -
O for some drowsy Morphean amulet!
The boisterous, midnight, festive clarion,
The kettle-drum, and far-heard clarionet,
Affray his ears, though but in dying tone: -
The hall door shuts again, and all the noise is gone.


And still she slept an azure-lidded sleep,
In blanched linen, smooth, and lavender’d,
While he from forth the closet brought a heap
Of candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourd;
With jellies soother than the creamy curd,
And lucent syrops, tinct with cinnamon;
Manna and dates, in argosy transferr’d
From Fez; and spiced dainties, every one,
From silken Samarcand to cedar’d Lebanon.


These delicates he heap’d with glowing hand
On golden dishes and in baskets bright
Of wreathed silver: sumptuous they stand
In the retired quiet of the night,
Filling the chilly room with perfume light. -
«And now, my love, my seraph fair, awake!
«Thou art my heaven, and I thine eremite:
«Open thine eyes, for meek St. Agnes’ sake,
«Or I shall drowse beside thee, so my soul doth ache.»


"To My Brothers" 1816

SMALL, busy flames play through the fresh laid coals,
And their faint cracklings o’er our silence creep
Like whispers of the household gods that keep
A gentle empire o’er fraternal souls.
And while, for rhymes, I search around the poles,
Your eyes are fix’d, as in poetic sleep,
Upon the lore so voluble and deep,
That aye at fall of night our care condoles.
This is your birth-day Tom, and I rejoice
That thus it passes smoothly, quietly.
Many such eves of gently whisp’ring noise
May we together pass, and calmly try
What are this world’s true joys,- ere the great voice,
From its fair face, shall bid our spirits fly.

November 18, 1816.

"On leaving some Friends at an Early Hour"

On leaving some Friends at an Early Hour

GIVE me a golden pen, and let me lean
On heap’d up flowers, in regions clear, and far;
Bring me a tablet whiter than a star,
Or hand of hymning angel, when ’tis seen
The silver strings of heavenly harp atween:
And let there glide by many a pearly car,
Pink robes, and wavy hair, and diamond jar,
And half discovered wings, and glances keen.
The while let music wander round my ears,
And as it reaches each delicious ending,
Let me write down a line of glorious tone,
And full of many wonders of the spheres:
For what a height my spirit is contending!
’Tis not content so soon to be alone.


"Bright Star" excerpt

Poetry Readings


AP English Poetry Terms

AP English Poetry Terms

(Presented by Dennis Carroll of High Point University at AP Workshop)

Listed and defined below are literary terms that you will need to know in order to discuss and write about works of poetry. You are already familiar with many of these.

l. alliteration- the repetition of identical or similar consonant sounds, normally at the beginnings of words. “Gnus never know pneumonia” is an example of alliteration since, despite the spellings, all four words begin with the “n” sound.

2. allusion- a reference in a work of literature to something outside the work, especially to a well-known historical or literary event, person, or work. When T.S. Eliot writes, "To have squeezed the universe into a ball" in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," he is alluding to the lines "Let us roll our strength and all/ Our sweetness up into one ball" in Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress."

3. antithesis- a figure of speech characterized by strongly contrasting words, clauses, sentences, or ideas, as in “Man proposes; God disposes.” Antithesis is a balancing of one term against another for emphasis or stylistic effectiveness. The second line of the following couplet by Alexander Pope is an example of antithesis:
The hungry judges soon the sentence sign,
And wretches hang that jury-men may dine.

4. apostrophe- a figure of speech in which someone (usually, but not always absent), some abstract quality, or a nonexistent personage is directly addressed as though present. Following are two examples of apostrophe:
Papa Above!
Regard a Mouse.
-Emily Dickinson

Milton! Thou shouldst be living in this hour;
England hath need of thee . . ..
-William Wordsworth

5. assonance- the repetition of identical or similar vowel sounds. “A land laid waste with all its young men slain” repeats the same “a” sound in “laid,” “waste,” and “slain.”

6. ballad meter- a four-line stanza rhymed abcd with four feet in lines one and three and three feet in lines two and four.
O mother, mother make my bed.
O make it soft and narrow.
Since my love died for me today,
I’ll die for him tomorrow.

7. blank verse- unrhymed iambic pentameter. Blank verse is the meter of most of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as that of Milton’s Paradise Lost.

8. cacophony- a harsh, unpleasant combination of sounds or tones. It may be an unconscious flaw in the poet’s music, resulting in harshness of sound or difficulty of articulation, or it may be used consciously for effect, as Browning and Eliot often use it. See, for example, the following line from Browning’s “Rabbi Ben Ezra”:

Irks care the crop-full bird? Frets doubt the maw-crammed beast?

9. caesura- a pause, usually near the middle of a line of verse, usually indicated by the sense of the line, and often greater than the normal pause. For example, one would naturally pause after “human’ in the following line from Alexander Pope:
To err is human, to forgive divine.

10. conceit- an ingenious and fanciful notion or conception, usually expressed through an elaborate analogy, and pointing to a striking parallel between two seemingly dissimilar things. A conceit may be a brief metaphor, but it also may form the framework of an entire poem. A famous example of a conceit occurs in John Donne’s poem “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” in which he compares his soul and his wife’s to legs of a mathematical compass.

11. consonance- the repetition of similar consonant sounds in a group of words. The term usually refers to words in which the ending consonants are the same but the vowels that precede them are different. Consonance is found in the following pairs of words: “add” and “read,” “bill and ball,” and “born” and “burn.”

12. couplet- a two-line stanza, usually with end-rhymes the same.

13. devices of sound- the techniques of deploying the sound of words, especially in poetry. Among devices of sound are rhyme, alliteration, assonance, consonance, and onomatopoeia. The devices are used for many reasons, including to create a general effect of pleasant or of discordant sound, to imitate another sound, or to reflect a meaning.

14. diction- the use of words in a literary work. Diction may be described as formal (the level of usage common in serious books and formal discourse), informal (the level of usage found in the relaxed but polite conversation of cultivated people), colloquial (the everyday usage of a group, possibly including terms and constructions accepted in that group but not universally acceptable), or slang (a group of newly coined words which are not acceptable for formal usage as yet).

15. didactic poem- a poem which is intended primarily to teach a lesson. The distinction between didactic poetry and non-didactic poetry is difficult to make and usually involves a subjective judgement of the author’s purpose on the part of the critic or the reader. Alexander Pope’s Essay on Criticism is a good example of didactic poetry.

16. dramatic poem- a poem which employs a dramatic form or some element or elements of dramatic techniques as a means of achieving poetic ends. The dramatic monologue is an example.

17. elegy- a sustained and formal poem setting forth the poet’s meditations upon death or another solemn theme. Examples include Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”; Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam; and Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.”

18. end-stopped- a line with a pause at the end. Lines that end with a period, a comma, a colon, a semicolon, an exclamation point, or a question mark are end-stopped lines.
True ease in writing comes from Art, not Chance,
As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance.

19. enjambment- the continuation of the sense and grammatical construction from one line of poetry to the next. Milton’s Paradise Lost is notable for its use of enjambment, as seen in the following lines:
. . . .Or if Sion hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa’s brook that flow’d
Fast by the oracle of God, . . . .

20. extended metaphor- an implied analogy, or comparison, which is carried throughout a stanza or an entire poem. In “The Bait,” John Donne compares a beautiful woman to fish bait and men to fish who want to be caught by the woman. Since he carries these comparisons all the way through the poem, these are considered “extended metaphors.”

21. euphony- a style in which combinations of words pleasant to the ear predominate. Its opposite is cacophony. The following lines from John Keats’ Endymion are euphonious:
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

22. eye rhyme- rhyme that appears correct from spelling, but is half-rhyme or slant rhyme from the pronunciation. Examples include “watch” and “match,” and “love” and “move.”

23. feminine rhyme- a rhyme of two syllables, one stressed and one unstressed, as “waken” and “forsaken” and “audition” and “rendition.” Feminine rhyme is sometimes called double rhyme.

24. figurative language- writing that uses figures of speech (as opposed to literal language or that which is actual or specifically denoted) such as metaphor, irony, and simile. Figurative language uses words to mean something other than their literal meaning. “The black bat night has flown” is figurative, with the metaphor comparing night and bat. “Night is over” says the same thing without figurative language.

25. free verse- poetry which is not written in a traditional meter but is still rhythmical. The poetry of Walt Whitman is perhaps the best-known example of free verse.

26. heroic couplet- two end-stopped iambic pentameter lines rhymed aa, bb, cc with the thought usually completed in the two-line unit. See the following example from Alexander Pope’s Rape of the Lock:
But when to mischief mortals bend their will,
How soon they find fit instruments of ill!

27. hyperbole- a deliberate, extravagant, and often outrageous exaggeration. It may be used for either serious or comic effect. Macbeth is using hyperbole in the following lines:
. . . .No; this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.

28. imagery- the images of a literary work; the sensory details of a work; the figurative language of a work. Imagery has several definitions, but the two that are paramount are the visual auditory, or tactile images evoked by the words of a literary work or the images that figurative language evokes. When an AP question asks you to discuss imagery, you should look especially carefully at the sensory details and the metaphors and similes of a passage. Some diction is also imagery, but not all diction evokes sensory responses.

29. irony- the contrast between actual meaning and the suggestion of another meaning. Verbal irony is a figure of speech in which the actual intent is expressed in words which carry the opposite meaning. Irony is likely to be confused with sarcasm, but it differs from sarcasm in that it is usually lighter, less harsh in its wording though in effect probably more cutting because of its indirectness. The ability to recognize irony is one of the surer tests of intelligence and sophistication. Among the devices by which irony is achieved are hyperbole and understatement.

30. internal rhyme- rhyme that occurs within a line, rather than at the end. The following lines contain internal rhyme:
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping. . suddenly there came a tapping . . . .

31. lyric poem- any short poem that presents a single speaker who expresses thoughts and feelings. Love lyrics are common, but lyric poems have also been written on subjects as different as religion and reading. Sonnets and odes are lyric poems.

32. masculine rhyme- rhyme that falls on the stressed and concluding syllables of the rhyme-words. Examples include “keep” and “sleep,” “glow” and “no,” and “spell” and “impel.”

33. metaphor- a figurative use of language in which a comparison is expressed without the use of a comparative term like “as,” “like,” or “than.” A simile would say, “night is like a black bat”; a metaphor would say, “the black bat night.”

34. meter- the repetition of a regular rhythmic unit in a line of poetry. The meter of a poem emphasizes the musical quality of the language and often relates directly to the subject matter of the poem. Each unit of meter is known as a foot.

35. metonymy- a figure of speech which is characterized by the substitution of a term naming an object closely associated with the word in mind for the word itself. In this way we commonly speak of the king as the “crown,” an object closely associated with kingship.

36. mixed metaphors- the mingling of one metaphor with another immediately following with which the first is incongruous. Lloyd George is reported to have said, “I smell a rat. I see it floating in the air. I shall nip it in the bud.”

37. narrative poem- a non-dramatic poem which tells a story or presents a narrative, whether simple or complex, long or short. Epics and ballads are examples of narrative poems.

38. octave- an eight-line stanza. Most commonly, octave refers to the first division of an Italian sonnet.

39. onomatopoeia- the use of words whose sound suggests their meaning. Examples are “buzz,” “hiss,” or “honk.”

40. oxymoron- a form of paradox that combines a pair of contrary terms into a single expression. This combination usually serves the purpose of shocking the reader into awareness. Examples include “wise fool,” “sad joy,” and “eloquent silence.”

41. paradox- a situation or action or feeling that appears to be contradictory but on inspection turns out to be true or at least to make sense. The following lines from one of John Donne’s Holy Sonnets include paradoxes:
Take me to you, imprison me, for I
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

42. parallelism- a similar grammatical structure within a line or lines of poetry. Parallelism is characteristic of Asian poetry, being notably present in the Psalms, and it seems to be the controlling principle of the poetry of Walt Whitman, as in the following lines:
. . . .Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to
connect them.
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

43. paraphrase- a restatement of an ideas in such a way as to retain the meaning while changing the diction and form. A paraphrase is often an amplification of the original for the purpose of clarity.

44. personification- a kind of metaphor that gives inanimate objects or abstract ideas human characteristics.

45. poetic foot- a group of syllables in verse usually consisting of one accented syllable and one or two unaccented syllables associated with it. The most common type of feet are as follows:
iambic u /
trochaic / u
anapestic u u /
dactylic / u u
pyrrhic u u
spondaic / /

The following poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge illustrates all of these feet except the pyrrhic foot:
Trochee trips from long to short.
From long to long in solemn sort
Slow Spondee stalks; strong foot! yet ill able
Ever to come up with Dactyl trisyllable.
Iambics march from short to long;
With a leap and a bound the swift Anapests throng.

46. pun- a play on words that are identical or similar in sound but have sharply diverse meanings. Puns can have serious as well as humorous uses. An example is Thomas Hood’s:" They went and told the sexton and the sexton tolled the bell.”

47. quatrain- a four-line stanza with any combination of rhymes.

48. refrain- a group of words forming a phrase or sentence and consisting of one or more lines repeated at intervals in a poem, usually at the end of a stanza.

49. rhyme- close similarity or identity of sound between accented syllables occupying corresponding positions in two or more lines of verse. For a true rhyme, the vowels in the accented syllables must be preceded by different consonants, such as “fan” and “ran.”

50. rhyme royal- a seven-line stanza of iambic pentameter rhymed ababbcc, used by Chaucer and other medieval poets.

51. rhythm- the recurrence of stressed and unstressed syllables. The presence of rhythmic patterns lends both pleasure and heightened emotional response to the listener or reader.

52. sarcasm- a type of irony in which a person appears to be praising something but is actually insulting it. Its purpose is to injure or to hurt.

53. satire- writing that seeks to arouse a reader’s disapproval of an object by ridicule. Satire is usually comedy that exposes errors with an eye to correct vice and folly. Satire is often found in the poetry of Alexander Pope.

54. scansion- a system for describing the meter of a poem by identifying the number and the type(s) of feet per line. Following are the most common types of meter:
monometer one foot per line
dimeter two feet per line
trimeter three feet per line
tetrameter four feet per line
pentameter five feet per line
hexameter six feet per line
heptameter seven feet per line
octameter eight feet per line

Using these terms, then, a line consisting of five iambic feet is called “iambic pentameter,” while a line consisting of four anapestic feet is called “anapestic tetrameter.”

In order to determine the meter of a poem, the lines are “scanned,” or marked to indicate stressed and unstressed syllables which are then divided into feet. The following line has been scanned:

u / u / u / u / u /
And still she slept an az ure- lid ded sleep

55. sestet- a six-line stanza. Most commonly, sestet refers to the second division of an Italian sonnet.

56. simile- a directly expressed comparison; a figure of speech comparing two objects, usually with “like,” “as,” or “than.” It is easier to recognize a simile than a metaphor because the comparison is explicit: my love is like a fever; my love is deeper than a well. (The plural of “simile” is “similes” not “similies.”)

57. sonnet- normally a fourteen-line iambic pentameter poem. The conventional Italian, or Petrarchan sonnet is rhymed abba, abba, cde, cde; the English, or Shakespearean, sonnet is rhymed abab, cdcd, efef, gg.

58. stanza- usually a repeated grouping of three or more lines with the same meter and rhyme scheme.

59. strategy (or rhetorical strategy)- the management of language for a specific effect. The strategy or rhetorical strategy of a poem is the planned placing of elements to achieve an effect. The rhetorical strategy of most love poems is deployed to convince the loved one to return to the speaker’s love. By appealing to the loved one’s sympathy, or by flattery, or by threat, the lover attempts to persuade the loved one to love in return.

60. structure- the arrangement of materials within a work; the relationship of the parts of a work to the whole; the logical divisions of a work. The most common units of structure in a poem are the line and stanza.

61. style- the mode of expression in language; the characteristic manner of expression of an author. Many elements contribute to style, and if a question calls for a discussion of style or of “stylistic techniques,” you can discuss diction, syntax, figurative language, imagery, selection of detail, sound effects, and tone, using the ones that are appropriate.

62. symbol- something that is simultaneously itself and a sign of something else. For example, winter, darkness, and cold are real things, but in literature they are also likely to be used as symbols of death.

63. synecdoche- a form of metaphor which in mentioning a part signifies the whole. For example, we refer to “foot soldiers” for infantry and “field hands” for manual laborers who work in agriculture.

64. syntax- the ordering of words into patterns or sentences. If a poet shifts words from the usual word order, you know you are dealing with an older style of poetry or a poet who wants to shift emphasis onto a particular word.

65. tercet- a stanza of three lines in which each line ends with the same rhyme.

66. terza rima- a three-line stanza rhymed aba, bcb, cdc,etc. Dante’s Divine Comedy is written in terza rima.

67. theme- the main thought expressed by a work. In poetry, it is the abstract concept which is made concrete through its representation in person, action, and image in the work.

68. tone- the manner in which an author expresses his or her attitude; the intonation of the voice that expresses meaning. (Remember that the “voice” need not be that of the poet.) Tone is described by adjectives, and the possibilities are nearly endless. Often a single adjective will be enough, and tone may change from stanza to stanza or even line to line. Tone is the result of allusion, diction, figurative language, imagery, irony, symbol, syntax, and style.

69. understatement- the opposite of hyperbole. It is a kind of irony that deliberately represents something as being much less than it really is. For example, Macbeth, having been nearly hysterical after killing Duncan, tells Lenox, “’Twas a rough night.”

70. villanelle- a nineteen-line poem divided into five tercets and a final quatrain. The villanelle uses only two rhymes which are repeated as follows: aba, aba, aba, aba, aba, abaa. Line 1 is repeated entirely to form lines 6, 12, and 18, and line 3 is repeated entirely to form lines 9, 15, and 19; thus, eight of the nineteen lines are refrain. Dylan Thomas’s poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” is an example of a villanelle.

"My Last Duchess" by Robert Browning (1842)

My Last Duchess


That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Fr Pandolf's hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will't please you sit and look at her? I said
`Fr Pandolf' by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 'twas not
Her husband's presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps
Fr Pandolf chanced to say ``Her mantle laps
`Over my lady's wrist too much,' or `Paint
`Must never hope to reproduce the faint
`Half-flush that dies along her throat:' such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart---how shall I say?---too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, 'twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace---all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men,---good! but thanked
Somehow---I know not how---as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech---(which I have not)---to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, `Just this
`Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
`Or there exceed the mark'---and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
---E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will't please you rise? We'll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master's known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

Robert Browning

Monday, April 19, 2010

Samples of Prose Styles

We recently had a carpenter build a few things in our house in the country. It's an old house, leaning away from the wind a little; its floors sag gently, like an old mattress. The carpenter turned his back on our tilting walls and took his vertical from a plumb line and his horizontal from a bubble level, and then went to work by the light of these absolutes. Fitting his planks into place took a lot of those long, irregular, oblique cuts with a ripsaw that break an amateur's heart. The bookcase and kitchen counter and cabinet he left behind stand perfectly up-and-down in a cockeyed house. Their rectitude is chastening. For minutes at a stretch, we study them, wondering if perhaps it isn't, after all, the wall that is true and the bookcase that leans. Eventually, we suppose, everything will settle into the comfortably crooked, but it will take years, barring earthquakes, and in the meantime we are annoyed at being made to live with impossible standards.

From Updike's "Assorted Prose."

A barn, in a day, is a small night. The splinters of light between the dry shingles pierce the high roof like stars, and the rafters and crossbeams and built-in ladders seem, until your eyes adjust, as mysterious as the branches of a haunted forest. David entered silently, the gun in one hand.... The smell of old straw scratched his sinuses.... the mouths of empty bins gaped like caves. Rusty oddments of farming — coils of baling wire, some spare tines for a harrow, a handleless shovel — hung on nails driven here and there in the thick wood. He stood stock-still a minute; it took a while to separate the cooing of the pigeons from the rustling in his ears. When he had focused on the cooing, it flooded the vast interior with its throaty, bubbling outpour: there seemed no other sound. They were up behind the beams. What light there was leaked through the shingles and the dirty glass windows at the far end and the small round holes, about as big as basketballs, high on the opposite stone side walls, under the ridge of the roof.

From the story "Pigeon Feathers."

He dug the hole, in a spot where there were no strawberry plants, before he studied the pigeons. He had never seen a bird this close before. The feathers were more wonderful than dog's hair, for each filament was shaped within the shape of the feather, and the feathers in turn were trimmed to fit a pattern that flowed without error across the bird's body. He lost himself in the geometrical tides as the feathers now broadened and stiffened to make an edge for flight, now softened and constricted to cup warmth around the mute flesh. And across the surface of the infinitely adjusted yet somehow effortless mechanics of the feathers played idle designs of color, no two alike, designs executed, it seemed, in a controlled rapture, with a joy that hung level in the air above and behind him. Yet these birds bred in the millions and were exterminated as pests. Into the fragrant open earth he dropped one broadly banded in slate shades of blue, and on top of it another, mottled all over in rhythms of lilac and gray. The next was almost wholly white, but for a salmon glaze at its throat. As he fitted the last two, still pliant, on the top and stood up...he was robed in this certainty: that the God who has lavished such craft upon these worthless birds would not destroy His whole creation by refusing to let David live forever.

John Updike's "Pigeon Feathers" (1960)

from Johnson's "Preface to his Dictionary" (1747)

We are taught by the great Roman orator, that every man should propose to himself the highest degree of excellence, but that he may stop with honour at the second or third: though, therefore, my performance should fall below the excellence of other dictionaries, I may obtain, at least, the praise of having endeavoured well; nor shall I think it any reproach to my diligence, that I have retired without a triumph, from a contest with united academies, and long successions of learned compilers. I cannot hope, in the warmest moments, to preserve so much caution through so long a work, as not often to sink into negligence, or to obtain so much knowledge of all its parts, as not frequently to fail by ignorance. I expect that sometimes the desire of accuracy will urge me to superfluities, and sometimes the fear of prolixity betray me to omissions; that in the extent of such variety, I shall be often bewildered, and, in the mazes of such intricacy, be frequently entangled; that in one part refinement will be subtilized beyond exactness, and evidence dilated in another beyond perspicuity. Yet I do not despair of approbation from those who, knowing the uncertainty of conjecture, the scantiness of knowledge, the fallibility of memory, and the unsteadiness of attention, can compare the causes of errour with the means of avoiding it, and the extent of art with the capacity of man: and whatever be the event of my endeavours, I shall not easily regret an attempt, which has procured me the honour of appearing thus publickly.


Your Lordship's most obedient,

and most humble servant,


Sunday, April 18, 2010

William Wordsworth's "The Prelude", from Bk I

One summer evening (led by her) I found
A little boat tied to a willow tree
Within a rocky cave, its usual home.
Straight I unloosed her chain, and stepping in
Pushed from the shore. It was an act of stealth
And troubled pleasure, nor without the voice
Of mountain-echoes did my boat move on;
Leaving behind her still, on either side,
Small circles glittering idly in the moon,
Until they melted all into one track
Of sparkling light. But now, like one who rows,
Proud of his skill, to reach a chosen point
With an unswerving line, I fixed my view
Upon the summit of a craggy ridge, 370
The horizon's utmost boundary; far above
Was nothing but the stars and the grey sky.
She was an elfin pinnace; lustily
I dipped my oars into the silent lake,
And, as I rose upon the stroke, my boat
Went heaving through the water like a swan;
When, from behind that craggy steep till then
The horizon's bound, a huge peak, black and huge,
As if with voluntary power instinct,
Upreared its head. I struck and struck again, 380
And growing still in stature the grim shape
Towered up between me and the stars, and still,
For so it seemed, with purpose of its own
And measured motion like a living thing,
Strode after me. With trembling oars I turned,
And through the silent water stole my way
Back to the covert of the willow tree;
There in her mooring-place I left my bark,--
And through the meadows homeward went, in grave
And serious mood; but after I had seen 390
That spectacle, for many days, my brain
Worked with a dim and undetermined sense
Of unknown modes of being; o'er my thoughts
There hung a darkness, call it solitude
Or blank desertion. No familiar shapes
Remained, no pleasant images of trees,
Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields;
But huge and mighty forms, that do not live
Like living men, moved slowly through the mind
By day, and were a trouble to my dreams. 400

Friday, April 16, 2010

"One dignity delays for all" Emily Dickinson

ONE dignity delays for all,
One mitred afternoon.
None can avoid this purple,
None evade this crown.

Coach it insures, and footmen, 5
Chamber and state and throng;
Bells, also, in the village,
As we ride grand along.

What dignified attendants,
What service when we pause! 10
How loyally at parting
Their hundred hats they raise!

How pomp surpassing ermine,
When simple you and I
Present our meek escutcheon, 15
And claim the rank to die!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Thesis on Heaney Sonnet

In this sonnet by Seamus Heaney, from his sequence “Clearances”, we see an early childhood memory take on an almost sacramental significance. Peeling potatoes in the kitchen with his mother, the speaker uses images of falling away, of solder “weeping off the soldering iron,” of a shared silence broken only by the splash of “clean water” gleaming in a bucket, to express his sense of communion with his mother in the most ordinary elements of her life. The poem’s initial incident with his mother(1-8), “her breath in mine,” intimate, simple, carved out of the domesticity of her kitchen, comes back to the speaker after the poem’s middle incident, his mother’s death-bed, with the force of a revelatory vision. Shared experience, in this sonnet, has a fluency all its own.

Poetry Readings (Audio)


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Yes, Billy Collins, again!

Interview Tobias Wolff

From Clearances by Seamus Heaney

From Clearances

In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other's work would bring us to our senses.
So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives--
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

"Casualty" by Seamus Heaney

He would drink by himself
And raise a weathered thumb
Towards the high shelf,
Calling another rum
And blackcurrant, without
Having to raise his voice,
Or order a quick stout
By a lifting of the eyes
And a discreet dumb-show
Of pulling off the top;
At closing time would go
In waders and peaked cap
Into the showery dark,
A dole-kept breadwinner
But a natural for work.
I loved his whole manner,
Sure-footed but too sly,
His deadpan sidling tact,
His fisherman's quick eye
And turned observant back.
To him, my other life.
Sometimes on the high stool,
Too busy with his knife
At a tobacco plug
And not meeting my eye,
In the pause after a slug
He mentioned poetry.
We would be on our own
And, always politic
And shy of condescension,
I would manage by some trick
To switch the talk to eels
Or lore of the horse and cart
Or the Provisionals.
But my tentative art
His turned back watches too:
He was blown to bits
Out drinking in a curfew
Others obeyed, three nights
After they shot dead
The thirteen men in Derry.
PARAS THIRTEEN, the walls said,
BOGSIDE NIL. That Wednesday
Everyone held
His breath and trembled.

It was a day of cold
Raw silence, wind-blown
Surplice and soutane:
Rained-on, flower-laden
Coffin after coffin
Seemed to float from the door
Of the packed cathedral
Like blossoms on slow water.
The common funeral
Unrolled its swaddling band,
Lapping, tightening
Till we were braced and bound
Like brothers in a ring.
But he would not be held
At home by his own crowd
Whatever threats were phoned,
Whatever black flags waved.
I see him as he turned
In that bombed offending place,
Remorse fused with terror
In his still knowable face,
His cornered outfaced stare
Blinding in the flash.
He had gone miles away
For he drank like a fish
Nightly, naturally
Swimming towards the lure
Of warm lit-up places,
The blurred mesh and murmur
Drifting among glasses
In the gregarious smoke.
How culpable was he
That last night when he broke
Our tribe's complicity?
'Now, you're supposed to be
An educated man,'
I hear him say. 'Puzzle me
The right answer to that one.'

I missed his funeral,
Those quiet walkers
And sideways talkers
Shoaling out of his lane
To the respectable
Purring of the hearse...
They move in equal pace
With the habitual
Slow consolation
Of a dawdling engine,
The line lifted, hand
Over fist, cold sunshine
On the water, the land
Banked under fog: that morning
I was taken in his boat,
The screw purling, turning
Indolent fathoms white,
I tasted freedom with him.
To get out early, haul
Steadily off the bottom,
Dispraise the catch, and smile
As you find a rhythm
Working you, slow mile by mile,
Into your proper haunt
Somewhere, well out, beyond...
Dawn-sniffing revenant,
Plodder through midnight rain,
Question me again.


HOW TO EXPLICATE A POEM (with thanks to Betsy Draine of the University of Wisconsin-Madison)

A good poem is like a puzzle--the most fascinating part is studying the individual pieces carefully and then putting them back together to see how beautifully the whole thing fits together. A poem can have a number of different "pieces" that you need to look at closely in order to complete the poetic "puzzle." This sheet explains one way to attempt an explication of a poem, by examining each "piece" of the poem separately. (An "explication" is simply an explanation of how all the elements in a poem work together to achieve the total meaning and effect.)

Examine the situation in the poem:

Does the poem tell a story? Is it a narrative poem? If so, what events occur?
Does the poem express an emotion or describe a mood?
Poetic voice: Who is the speaker? Is the poet speaking to the reader directly or is the poem told through a fictional "persona"? To whom is he speaking? Can you trust the speaker?
Tone: What is the speaker's attitude toward the subject of the poem? What sort of tone of voice seems to be appropriate for reading the poem out loud? What words, images, or ideas give you a clue to the tone?

Examine the structure of the poem:

Form: Look at the number of lines, their length, their arrangement on the page. How does the form relate to the content? Is it a traditional form (e.g. sonnet, limerick) or "free form"? Why do you think the poem chose that form for his poem?
Movement: How does the poem develop? Are the images and ideas developed chronologically, by cause and effect, by free association? Does the poem circle back to where it started, or is the movement from one attitude to a different attitude (e.g. from despair to hope)?

Syntax: How many sentences are in the poem? Are the sentences simple or complicated? Are the verbs in front of the nouns instead of in the usual "noun, verb" order? Why?
Punctuation: What kind of punctuation is in the poem? Does the punctuation always coincide with the end of a poetic line? If so, this is called an end-stopped line. If there is no punctuation at the end of a line and the thought continues into the next line, this is called enjambement. Is there any punctuation in the middle of a line? Why do you think the poet would want you to pause halfway through the line?
Title: What does the title mean? How does it relate to the poem itself?

Examine the language of the poem:

Diction or Word Choice: Is the language colloquial, formal, simple, unusual?
Do you know what all the words mean? If not, look them up.
What moods or attitudes are associated with words that stand out for you?
Allusions: Are there any allusions (references) to something outside the poem, such as events or people from history, mythology, or religion?
Imagery: Look at the figurative language of the poem--metaphors, similes, analogies, personification. How do these images add to the meaning of the poem or intensify the effect of the poem?

Examine the musical devices in the poem:

Rhyme scheme: Does the rhyme occur in a regular pattern, or irregularly? Is the effect formal, satisfying, musical, funny, disconcerting?
Rhythm or meter: In most languages, there is a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a word or words in a sentence. In poetry, the variation of stressed and unstressed syllables and words has a rhythmic effect. What is the tonal effect of the rhythm here? Other "sound effects": alliteration, assonance, consonance repetition. What tonal effect do they have here? Has the poem created a change in mood for you--or a change in attitude? How have the technical elements helped the poet create this effect?