Poetic Diction in English
In English, poetic diction has taken multiple forms, but it generally mirrors the habits of Classical literature. Highly metaphoric adjective use, for example, can, through catachresis, become a common "poetic" word (e.g. the "rosy-fingered dawn" found in Homer, when translated into English, allows the "rose fingered" to be taken from its Homeric context and used generally to refer not to fingers, but to a person as being dawn-like). In the 16th century, Edmund Spenser (and, later, others) sought to find an appropriate language for the Epic in English, a language that would be as separate from commonplace English as Homeric Greek was from koine. Spenser found it in the intentional use of archaisms. (This approach was rejected by John Milton, who sought to make his epic out of blank verse, feeling that common language in blank verse was more majestic than difficult words in complex rhymes.) William Wordsworth also believed in using the language of the common man to portray a certain image and display his message. In the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth says "I have proposed to myself to imitate, and as far as possible, to adopt, the very language of men."
In the 18th century, pastoral and lyric poetry both developed a somewhat specialized vocabulary and poetic diction. The common elision within words ("howe'er" and "howsome," e.g.) were not merely graphical. As Paul Fussell and others have pointed out, these elisions were intended to be read aloud exactly as printed. Therefore, these elisions effectively created words that existed only in poetry. Further, the 18th century saw a renewed interest in Classical poetry, and thus poets began to test language for decorum. A word in a poem needed to be not merely accurate, but also fitting for the given poetic form. Pastoral, lyric, and philosophical poetry was scrutinized for the right type of vocabulary as well as the most meaningful. Joseph Addison and Richard Steele discussed poetic diction in The Spectator, and Alexander Pope satirized inappropriate poetic diction in his 1727 Peri Bathos.
The Romantics explicitly rejected the use of poetic diction, a term which William Wordsworth uses pejoratively in the 1802 "Preface to Lyrical Ballads":
- "There will also be found in these volumes little of what is usually called poetic diction; I have taken as much pains to avoid it as others ordinarily take to produce it; this I have done for the reason already alleged, to bring my language near to the language of men, and further, because the pleasure which I have proposed to myself to impart is of a kind very different from that which is supposed by many persons to be the proper object of poetry."
In an appendix, "By what is usually called poetic diction", Wordsworth goes on to define the poetic diction he rejects as above all characterized by heightened and unusual words and especially by "a mechanical adoption of... figures of speech, ... sometimes with propriety, but much more frequently applied... to feelings and ideas with which they had no natural connection whatsoever". The reason that a special poetic diction remote from prose usage gives pleasure to readers, suggests Wordsworth, is "its influence in impressing a notion of the peculiarity and exaltation of the Poet's character, and in flattering the Reader's self-love by bringing him nearer to a sympathy with that character." As an extreme example of the mechanical use of conventionally "poetic" metaphors, Wordsworth quotes an 18th-century metrical paraphrase of a passage from the Old Testament:
- How long, shall sloth usurp thy useless hours,
- Unnerve thy vigour, and enchain thy powers?
- While artful shades thy downy couch enclose,
- And soft solicitation courts repose,
- Amidst the drowsy charms of dull delight,
- Year chases year with unremitted flight,
- Till want now following, fraudulent and slow,
- Shall spring to seize thee, like an ambushed foe.3
"From this hubbub of words", comments Wordsworth, "pass to the original... 'How long wilt thou sleep, 0 Sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep. So shall thy poverty come as one that travaileth, and thy want as an armed man.'" (Proverbs, vii, 6)
At the same time, Wordsworth himself, and Coleridge had an interest in the archaisms found in the border regions of England and introduced dialect into their poetry. While such language was "unnatural" to the London readership, Wordsworth was careful to point out that he was using it not for an exotic or elevated effect, but as a sample of the contemporary "language of men", specifically the language of poor, uneducated country folk. On the other hand, the later Romantic poet John Keats had a new interest in the poetry of Spenser and in the "ancient English" bards, and so his language was often quite elevated and archaic.
Modernism, on the other hand, rejected specialized poetic diction altogether and without reservation. Ezra Pound, in his Imagist essay/manifesto A Few Don'ts (1913) warned against using superfluous words, especially adjectives (compare the use of adjectives in the 18th-century poem quoted above) and also advised the avoidance of abstractions, stating his belief that ' the natural object is always the adequate symbol'. Since the Modernists, poetry has approached all words as inherently interesting, and some schools of poetry after the Modernists (Minimalism and Plain language, in particular) have insisted on making diction itself the subject of poetry.
Read more about this topic: Poetic Diction
Other articles related to "diction, english, poetic diction":
... of rhetoric that involves the "gilding" (or supposed heightening) of diction in one language by the introduction of terms from another, typically a classical language considered to be more ... especially William Dunbar or Gavin Douglas, who commonly drew on the rhetoric and diction of classical antiquity in their work ... for such borrowings and in Germanic languages, such as English and Scots, Greek and Latinate coinages were particularly highlighted (see classical compounds especially ...
... In some languages, "poetic diction" is quite a literal dialect use ... In Latin, poetic diction involved not only a vocabulary somewhat uncommon in everyday speech, but syntax and inflections rarely seen elsewhere ... Thus, the diction employed by Horace and Ovid will differ from that used by Julius Caesar, both in terms of word choice and in terms of word form ...
... mode in which the writer is writing, diction--the writer's distinctive vocabulary choices and style of expression in a work--can also affect the writer's ... Insofar as a style of diction can be discerned, however, it is best to examine the diction against a number of spectrums Abstract-concrete how much of the diction is physical? General-specific to what ...
... Diction, pronounced (dic-shun) (Latin dictionem (nom ... A secondary, common meaning of "diction" means the distinctiveness of speech, the art of speaking clearly so that each word is clearly heard and understood to its ... Diction has multiple concerns register—words being either formal or informal in social context—is foremost ...
... Since its inception three and a half centuries ago, Spenser’s diction has been scrutinized by scholars ... and his work received, Spenser’s experimental diction was “largely condemned” before it received the acclaim it has today (Pope 575) ... Faerie Queene is related to the problem of his diction because it “involves the principles of imitation and decorum” (Pope 580) ...
Famous quotes containing the words english, poetic and/or diction:
“The English were very backward to explore and settle the continent which they had stumbled upon. The French preceded them both in their attempts to colonize the continent of North America ... and in their first permanent settlement ... And the right of possession, naturally enough, was the one which England mainly respected and recognized in the case of Spain, of Portugal, and also of France, from the time of Henry VII.”
—Henry David Thoreau (18171862)
“You look at any poetic creature: muslin, ether, demigoddess, millions of delights; then you look into the soul and find the most ordinary crocodile!”
—Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (18601904)
“But wise men pierce this rotten diction and fasten words again to visible things; so that picturesque language is at once a commanding certificate that he who employs it, is a man in alliance with truth and God.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882)