Abstract language refers to things that are intangilble, that is, which are perceived not through the senses but by the mind, such as truth, God, education, vice, transportation, poetry, war, love. Concrete language identifies things perceived through the senses (touch, smell, sight, hearing, and taste), such as soft, stench, red, loud, or bitter.

Literal language means exactly what it says; a rose is the physical flower. Figurative language changes the literal meaning, to make a meaning fresh or clearer, to express complexity, to capture a physical or sensory effect, or to extend meaning. Figurative language is also called figures of speech. The most common figures of speech are these:

A simile: a comparison of two dissimilar things using “like” or “as”, e.g., “my love is like a red, red rose” (Robert Burns).

A metaphor: a comparison of two dissimilar things which does not use “like” or “as,” e.g., “my love is a red, red rose” (Lilia Melani).

Personification: treating abstractions or inanimate objects as human, that is, giving them human attributes, powers, or feelings, e.g., “nature wept” or “the wind whispered many truths to me.”

Hyperbole: exaggeration, often extravagant; it may be used for serious or for comic effect.

Apostrophe: a direct address to a person, thing, or abstraction, such as “O Western Wind,” or “Ah, Sorrow, you consume us.” Apostrophes are generally capitalized.

Onomatopoeia: a word whose sounds seem to duplicate the sounds they describe–hiss, buzz, bang, murmur, meow, growl.

Oxymoron: a statement with two parts which seem contradictory; examples: sad joy, a wise fool, the sound of silence, or Hamlet’s saying, “I must be cruel only to be kind”

Elevated language or elevated style: formal, dignitifed language; it often uses more elaborate figures of speech. Elevated language is used to give dignity to a hero (note the speeches of heros like Achilles or Agamemnon in the Iliad), to express the superiority of God and religious matters generally (as in prayers or in the King James version of the Bible), to indicate the importance of certain events (the ritual language of the traditional marriage ceremony), etc. It can also be used to reveal a self-important or a pretentious character, for humor and/or for satire.

Lyric Poetry: a short poem with one speaker (not necessarily the poet) who expresses thought and feeling. Though it is sometimes used only for a brief poem about feeling (like the sonnet).it is more often applied to a poem expressing the complex evolution of thoughts and feeling, such as the elegy, the dramatic monologue, and the ode. The emotion is or seems personal In classical Greece, the lyric was a poem written to be sung, accompanied by a lyre. Click here for a discussion of Reading Lyric Poetry.
Meter: a rhythm of accented and unaccented syllables which are organized into patterns, called feet. In English poetry, the most common meters are these:

Iambic: a foot consisting of an unaccented and accented syllable. Shakespeare often uses iambic, for example the beginning of Hamlet’s speech (the accented syllables are italicized), “To be or not to be. Listen for the accents in this line from Marlowe, “Come live with me and be my love.” English seems to fall naturally into iambic patterns, for it is the most common meter in English.

Trochaic: a foot consisting of an accented and unaccented syllable. Longfellow’s Hiawatha uses this meter, which can quickly become singsong (the accented syllable is italicized):

“By the shores of GitcheGumee
By the shining Big-Sea-water.”

The three witches’ speech in Macbeth uses it: “Double, double, toil and trouble.”

Anapestic: a foot consisting of two unaccented syllables and an accented syllable. These lines from Shelley’s Cloud are anapestic:
“Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb
I arise and unbuild it again.”

Dactylic: a foot consisting of an accented syllable and two unaccented syllables, as in these words: swimingly, mannikin, openly.

Spondee: a foot consisting of two accented syllables, as in the word heartbreak. In English, this foot is used occasionally, for variety or emphasis.

Pyrrhic: a foot consisting of two unaccented syllables, generally used to vary the rhythm.

A line is named for the number of feet it contains: monometer: one foot, dimeter: two feet, trimeter: three feet, tetrameter: four feet, pentameter: five feet, hexameter: six feet, heptameter: seven feet.

The most common metrical lines in English are tetrameter (four feet) and pentameter (five feet). Shakespeare frequently uses unrhymed iambic pentameter in his plays; the technical name for this line is blank verse. In this course, I will not be asking you to identify meters and metrical lines, but I would like you to have some awareness of their existence. Modern English poetry is metrical, i.e., it relies on accented and unaccented syllables. Not all poetry does; Anglo-Saxon poetry relied on a system of alliteration. Skillful poets rarely use one meter throughout a poem but use these meters in combinations; however, a poem generally has one dominant meter.

Ode: usually a lyric poem of moderate length, with a serious subject, an elevated style, and an elaborate stanza pattern.There are various kinds of odes, which we don’t have to worry about in an introductiory course like this. The ode often praises people, the arts of music and poetry, natural scenes, or abstract concepts. The Romantic poets used the ode to explore both personal or general problems; they often started with a meditation on something in nature, as did Keats in “Ode to a Nightingale” or Shelley in”Ode to the West Wind.” Click here for a fuller discussion of the ode.

Paradox: a statement whose two parts seem contradictory yet make sense with more thought. Christ used paradox in his teaching: “They have ears but hear not.” Or in ordinary conversation, we might use a paradox, “Deep down he’s really very shallow.” Paradox attracts the reader’s or the listener’s attention and gives emphasis.
Point of view: the perspective from which the story is told.

The most obvious point of view is probably first person or “I.”

The omniscient narrator knows everything, may reveal the motivations, thoughts and feelings of the characters, and gives the reader information.

With a limited omniscient narrator, the material is presented from the point of view of a character, in third person.

The objective point of view presents the action and the characters’ speech, without comment or emotion. The reader has to interpret them and uncover their meaning.
A narrator may be trustworthy or untrustworthy, involved or uninvolved. Click here for an illustration of these points of view in the story of Sleeping Beauty.
Rhyme:the repetition of similar sounds. In poetry, the most common kind of rhyme is end rhyme, which occurs at the end of two or mroe lines. Internal rhyme occurs in the middle of a line, as in these lines from Coleridge, “In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud” or “Whiles all the night through fog-smoke white” (“The Ancient Mariner”).

There are many kinds of end rhyme:

True rhyme is what most people think of as rhyme; the sounds are nearly identical–notion, motion, potion, for example.

Weak rhyme, also called slant, oblique, approximate, or half rhyme, refers to words with similar but not identical sounds, e.g., notion-nation, bear-bore, ear-are. Emily Dickinson frequently uses partial rhymes.

Eye rhyme occurs when words look alike but don’t sound alike–e.g., bear-ear.
Sonnet: a lyric poem consisting of fourteen lines. In English, generally the two basic kinds of sonnets are the Italian or Petrarchan sonnet and the Shakespearean or Elizabethan sonnet. The Italian/Petrarchan sonnet is named after Petrarch, an Italian Renaissance poet. The Petrarchan sonnet consists of an octave (eight lines) and a sestet (six lines). The Shakespearean sonnet consists of three quatrains (four lines each) and a concluding couplet (two lines). The Petrarian sonnet tends to divide the thought into two parts; the Shakespearean, into four.

Structure: framework of a work of literature; the organization or over-all design of a work. The structure of a play may fall into logical divisions and also a mechanical division of acts and scenes. Groups of stories may be set in a larger structure or frame, like The Canterbury Tales, The Decameron, or The Arabian Tales.
Style: manner of expression; how a speaker or writer says what he says. Notice the difference in style of the opening paragraphs of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:

In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.

A Farewell to Arms
You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Symbol: in general terms, anything that stands for something else. Obvious examples are flags, which symbolize a nation; the cross is a symbol for Christianity; Uncle Sam a symbol for the United States. In literature, a symbol is expected to have significance. Keats starts his ode with a real nightingale, but quickly it becomes a symbol, standing for a life of pure, unmixed joy; then before the end of the poem it becomes only a bird again.
Tone: the writer’s attitude toward the material and/or readers. Tone may be playful, formal, intimate, angry, serious, ironic, outraged, baffled, tender, serene, depressed, etc.
Theme: (1) the abstract concept explored in a literary work; (2) frequently recurring ideas, such as enjoy-life while-you-can; (3) repetition of a meaningful element in a work, such as references to sight, vision, and blindness in Oedipus Rex. Sometimes the theme is also called the motif. Themes in Hamlet include the nature of filial duty and the dilemma of the idealist in a non-ideal situation. A theme in Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” is the difficulty of correlating the ideal and the real.
Tragedy: broadly defined, a literary and particularly a dramatic presentation of serious actions in which the chief character has a disastrous fate. There are many different kinds and theories of tragedy, starting with the Greeks and Aristotle’s definition in The Poetics, “the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself…with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions.” In the Middle Ages, tragedy merely depicted a decline from happiness to misery because of some flaw or error of judgment. Click here for a fuller discussion of tragedy and the tragic vision.




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