Literary Devices and Their Use in Poetry

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LITERARY DEVICES AND THEIR USE IN POETRY
The task set out in this essay is to examine the listed devices (accentuation, creation of hierarchies, shifts of accent, ambiguity, semanticisation and creation of relationship) of syntactic foregrounding, using examples from poems as illustration. The word ‘foregrounding’ when used in a literary context means to ‘make strange’. In other words poets use various literary and poetic devices in order to highlight a particular unit within a poem, in order to give the reader ‘clues’ as she goes about interpreting and ascertaining meaning in a given work. We will start at the top of the list with accentuation. As can be denoted from its meaning, accentuation is a form or type of foregrounding. It emphasises certain language structures in order to make them stand out and draw the reader’s attention. There are five syntactic devices that a poet can use to create accentuation in her poem, namely displacement, deletion, selective deviation, repetition and typography. Displacement refers to a device whereby a poet takes conventional grammar and rearranges it. For example, in the poem Mending Wall, by Robert Frost the first line reads “Something there is that does not love a wall.” (Moffet, Mphahlele 2006: 103) Had the poet used conventional language the sentence would read ‘there is something that does not love a wall.” As can be seen from the given example although the syntactic structure is foregrounded the semantic essence has not changed. Another example of displacement comes in the poem The art of Edgar Degas by David Campbell. Line two in this poem states ‘limning the gestures of defeat” (www.poemhunter.com) I found it necessary to look up the definition of the word limning, so obviously it stood out for me immediately. Next we come to deletion. I believe that the term is self-explanatory, so I will just give an example from the poem Letter to My Aunt, by Dylan Thomas where line 44 to 45 read as follows: “Never omit such vital words, as belly, genitals and ---,” (www.poemhunter.com) This is a very obvious instance of deletion, but is one nonetheless. We will now scrutinize the third literary device available to poets that brings about foregrounding or accentuation. This is selective displacement. The study guide suggests that selective deviation occurs in a work where the majority of the language used is conventional, but the poet will select a word, phrase or sentence and rearrange the syntax so that the particular word, phrase or sentence is accentuated. Robert Frost’s poem Cliff Dweller gives us an instance of this. The first line reads: ‘There sandy seems the golden sky’. (www.poemhunter.com) The rest of the poem is written in conventional English, but he has altered the syntax just in the first line. Were we to remake this line in regular English it would read ‘There the golden sky seems sandy’. But it is clear that we would destroy the rhyming scheme of the poem and our line would not be nearly so poetic. My choice of a poem that uses repetition very successfully is The Charge of the Light Brigade by Lord Alfred Tennyson. (www.poemhunter.com) He uses repetition in numerous places throughout the poem but perhaps the most striking lines that are repeated three times in the poem are “Into the valley of Death/Rode the six hundred”. He then alters the words slightly in stanza four where it becomes “Then they rode back, but not/Not the six hundred.” In stanza five we read “All that was left of them, /Left of six hundred.” And the last lines in stanza six read “Honor the Light Brigade, /Noble six hundred.” (www.poemhunter.com) The pathos of these lines certainly accentuates them. Finally we come to typography which is defined in the Study Guide for Structuralism and Semiotics as ‘the spatial and visual foregrounding of words.’ There are a number of instances that I could use as an example here, but I have chosen Constantly Risking Absurdity by Lawrence...
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