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Thread: Looking for original source

  1. #1
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    Looking for original source

    Is there a name for the device used in the following passages, or maybe an original source they're alluding to? I find myself wanting to use it in my own poetry, and I'd like very much to know what I'm drawing from...

    Evening, and all my ghosts come back to me
    like red banty hens to catalpa limbs

    -- Shaking the Grass, Janice Harrington

    Winter, and his children shivered at the front gate,
    silhouetted against a blazing house.
    Winter, and a man walked into the street,
    dropped his glasses, and shot a dog.
    Summer, and he watched his children’s heart break.

    -- To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

    Morning, and the bathroom's bare windows
    look out onto the self-same dawn

    -- Dewdrop Mythopoesis (my own poem)

    This isn't exactly a situation where libraries, dictionaries, or Google can be of very much help, so I'd appreciate it very much if anyone who's familiar with this could help me out here.

  2. #2
    Jealous Optimist Dori's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dan131m View Post
    This isn't exactly a situation where libraries, dictionaries, or Google can be of very much help, so I'd appreciate it very much if anyone who's familiar with this could help me out here.
    You could also try Wikipedia: Literary Devices.
    com-pas-sion (n.) [ME. & OFr. <LL. (Ec.) compassio, sympathy < compassus, pp. of compati, to feel pity < L. com-, together + pali, to suffer] sorrow for the sufferings or trouble of another or others, accompanied by an urge to help; deep sympathy; pity

    Dostoevsky Forum!

  3. #3
    Inexplicably Undiscovered
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    The first example you cite, the phrase beginning with the word "like," is an example of a simile.

    The second two are examples of personification.

    You can look up these terms in any Dictionary of Literary Devices.

    Also, search the Literature Network Forums, and especially the thread posted by Quasimodo, "Figures of Syntax and Rhetoric."
    http://www.online-literature.com/for...terary+devices

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    I suppose I should have been a little more specific. I was referring to the way each passage introduces the setting:

    Evening, and all my ghosts come back to me

    Winter, and his children shivered at the front gate,

    Morning, and the bathroom's bare windows

    In the passage from To Kill a Mockingbird there is an implicit "it was" before each season coming from a parallel passage which precedes it; in the other two examples, however, these are the opening lines.

    I read over the suggestions so far and haven't found anything. It's possible that this figure is just particularly isolated, but that doesn't feel right to me. Has anyone else seen anything like this before?

  5. #5
    in angulo cum libro Petrarch's Love's Avatar
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    Hi Dan. Welcome to the forums. I certainly know what you're talking about. Using just the noun to set the scene is a beautiful way of streamlining your words, and I've seen that trick used many times in both poetry and prose. The effect is a bit like that of an apostrophe (a declaration or address such as "O Captain my captain!" "O Sacred Muse!" "Death, be not proud" etc.) in that it similarly places an emphasis on a leading noun. But clearly what you're pointing to is not apostrophe. I would imagine that someone has come up with a name for that sort of thing, but nothing is springing to my mind. Let me know if you find one out.

    I was thinking over the possible source for this use, and have a potential hypothesis, which is that it may be something ultimately derived from the influence of Latin literature. Now, you understand, this is pure conjecture and I may or may not be on to something here, but as I tried to think of the earliest examples I could think of for this sort of thing, I kept having lines in Latin or Italian pop into my head, and I realized that the reason for this was that in Latin you normally have either the subject or object near the start of a sentence with the verb not arriving until either the end or very near the end. As a simple example of how Latin syntax differs from that of English, take the first line of Virgil's Aeneid:

    Arma virumque cano
    This literally translates to "arms and the man I sing." The more normal English version of the line would be to say, "I sing about arms and the man." I can think of a couple lines in Virgil off the top of my head in which similarly a time of day, a season or a place is placed first and isolated from the verb. Take a line from book eleven of the Aeneid as an example:

    Aurora interea miseris mortalibus almam extulerat lucem...
    This literally translates to something like "Aurora, meanwhile, to unhappy mortals nourishing light brought." As you can see, the verb is left until nearly the end of the phrase, separating it quite a bit from the noun, Aurora. Normally in English we would say "Aurora brought nourishing light to unhappy mortals," thus bringing the noun in direct contact with the verb. Thus, in Latin, as well as, to a certain extent, the Romance languages directly related to Latin (Italian, French, Spanish etc.) it is more natural than it is in English to think of the noun early in the sentence and well seperated from the verb. Many early English poets were deeply influenced by Latin writers. For example the 17th century poet, John Milton, had highly Latinate syntax that led to a separation of noun and verb very similar to that we've just seen in Virgil's Latin. Take for example, the start of book 5 of Paradise Lost:

    Now morn, her rosy steps in the eastern clime/ Advancing, sowed the earth with orient pearl.
    Rather than writing "morn advanced her rosy steps...and sowed the earth..." Milton is choosing a Latinate effect by placing the verbs in end positions. It is my hypothesis that this structure of putting the noun to the forefront and giving the verb the back seat may have contributed to writers simply dropping the verb altogether and allowing the noun to stand alone to express a situation, which is what is essentially happening in your examples (indeed, I am certain that there are examples of exactly what you describe in Latin verse, and probably in Milton as well, but didn't have them handy to mind). That is, at least where I would guess that usage stems from, and in any case it seems to me that this is a venerable and old device. However, regardless of how it became a rhetorical technique, I'll agree with you that it's quite an effective one.
    Last edited by Petrarch's Love; 02-01-2008 at 06:21 AM.

    "In rime sparse il suono/ di quei sospiri ond' io nudriva 'l core/ in sul mio primo giovenile errore"~ Francesco Petrarca
    "Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can."~ Jane Austen

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    It is tempting -- and probably entirely reasonable -- to look toward foreign grammars whenever we're encountered with an unusually constructed passage which seems to "work." I wouldn't call it unreasonable to say, for instance, that E. E. Cummings was consciously emulating freer word order of more highly inflected languages when he wrote that "anyone lived in a pretty how town." In this particular case, though, I'm still unconvinced.

    If we're going to loot other languages' poetry for an explanation, we may as well go to haiku, which often introduce the setting in a first line disjoint from the other two, e.g. Buson's

    a bitter wind
    the lone monk bending
    to words cut in stone

    I'd doubt that this was quite what was going through Harper Lee's mind at the time. Still, you've got me frantically thumbing through Paradise Lost looking for whatever support I can find for your theories... I'm afraid I'd have to leave the Latin up to someone better-educated

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