The Study of Words

The following examples are especially pertinent to Part One, Chapter I. Some of the figures of speech, however, are treated in Chapter II.


A. Onomatopoeia:

1. For the night-wind has a dismal trick of wandering round and round an old church, and moaning as it goes; and of trying, with its unseen hand, the windows and the doors; and seeking out some crevices by which to enter. And when it has got in, as one not finding what it seeks, whatever that may be, it wails and howls to issue forth again: and not content with stalking through the aisles, and gliding round and round the pillars, and tempting the deep organ, soars up to the roof, and strives to rend the rafters: then flings itself despairingly upon the stones below, and passes, muttering, into the vaults. Anon, it comes up stealthily, and creeps along the walls, seeming to read, in whispers, the inscriptions sacred to the Dead. At some of these, it breaks out shrilly, as with laughter; and at others, moans and cries as if it were lamenting. It has a ghostly sound too, lingering within the altar; where it seems to chaunt, in its wild way, of Wrong and Murder done and false Gods worshipped, in defiance of the Tables of the Law, which look so fair and smooth, but are so flawed and broken. Ugh! Heaven preserve us, sitting snugly round the fire! It has an awful voice, that wind at Midnight, singing in a church!

But, high up in the steeple! There the foul blast roars and whistles! High up in the steeple, where it is free to come and go through many an airy arch and loophole, and to twist and twine itself about the giddy stair, and twirl the groaning weathercock, and make the very tower shake and shiver! High up in the steeple, where the belfry is, and iron rails are ragged with rust, and sheets of lead and copper, shrivelled by the changing weather, crackle and heave beneath the unaccustomed tread; and birds stuff shabby nests into corners of old oaken joists and beams; and dust grows old and gray; and speckled spiders, indolent and fat with long security, swing idly to and fro in the vibration of the bells, and never loose their hold upon their thread-spun castles in the air, or climb up sailor-like in quick alarm, or drop upon the ground and ply a score of nimble legs to save one life! High up in the steeple of an old church, far above the light and murmur of the town and far below the flying clouds that shadow it, is the wild and dreary place at night: and high up in the steeple of an old church, dwelt the Chimes I tell of.

    -- Charles Dickens, The Chimes

2. Only from the long line of spray
Where the ebb meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you bear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

    -- Matthew Arnold, "Dover Beach"

B. Other sound effects:

The musical suggestiveness of poetry is often more subtle than obvious onomatopoeia. Study the emotional effect of various sound devices in the following:

1. Notice the joyful or cheerful effect in this poem:

Burly, dozing humble-bee,
Where thou art is clime for me.
Let them sail for Porto Rique,
Far-off heats through seas to seek;
I will follow thee along,
Thou animated torrid-zone!

Zigzag steerer, desert cheerer,
Let me chase thy waving lines;
Keep me nearer, me thy hearer,
Singing over shrubs and vines.

    -- Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The Humble Bee."

Study the whole poem in the Oxford Book of American Verse, n. 29

2. And the contrasted emotions of the following stanzas:

The trumpet's loud clangor
   Excites us to arms
With shrill notes of anger
   And mortal alarms.

The double double double beat
   Of the thundering drum
   Cries: Hark! The foes come;
Charge, charge, 'tis too late to retreat!

The soft complaining flute
   In dying notes discovers
   The woes of hopeless lovers,
Whose dirge is whispered by the warbling lute.

   Sharp violins proclaim
Their jealous pangs and desperation,
Fury, frantic indignation,
Depth of pains and height of passion
   For the fair, disdainful dame.

    -- from John Dryden, "A Song for St. Cecilia's Day."

Study the whole poem for many such effects.

3. Notice the sorrowful sound of the following:

The skies they were ashen and sober;
   The leaves they were crisped and sere--
   The leaves they were withering and sere:

It was night, in the lonesome October
   Of my most immemorial year:

It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
   In the misty mid region of Weir --

It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,
   In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir --

    -from Edgar Allen Poe, "Ulalume -- A Ballad"


The following are some examples of the history hidden in words:

1. The word mystery commonly today brings to mind a "mystery story" which concerns the discovery of a murderer, but we are also familiar with its use in the Catechism in the phrase "a mystery of faith." From this latter use we speak of the "mysteries of the Rosary." Similar to this last use is the term in medieval literature "a mystery play," which was not about a murder, but a play based on some biblical incident or an incident in the life of some saint. The Latin word mysterium is from the Greek mysterion referring to one of the secret religious societies into which Greeks were initiated. The word comes from muein, "to initiate." This in turn is from mu which means "to keep closed," that is, to close the mouth (or eyes), obviously because the initiate was required to keep secret the ceremonies of the initiation. Our word mute has the same origin. Very possibly this word has an onomatopoetic origin, since mu is like a murmuring sound made with closed lips.

2. The word heresy which means the upholding of some false teaching contrary to the Catholic faith comes through French and Latin from the Greek hairesis and this from haireo, which means "to take or choose" (notice the same root in such words as "adhere" or "coherent"). This is because at the time heresies first arose in early Christianity when Greek was still widely spoken, they were seen to originate in the desire of some people to select or choose something from Christian teaching which pleased them and to reject other teachings which they found hard or unpleasant.

3. Lady, now used to mean any woman referred to in a respectful manner, meant in the older English a noblewoman who was head of a large household. Hence it still remains a title in England for the wife of a Lord, and it is used of Our Lady, because she is Queen of Heaven. Originally, however, it came from the old Anglo-Saxon hlaef-dige which meant a "bread-kneader" because the woman of the household in early times was the one who baked the bread.

4. Senior and junior are Latin words meaning respectively " elder" and "younger." Sophomore is from the Greek words sophos, "wise" (see "philosophy," "sophistry," sophisticated") and moros, "foolish," because a sophomore is half-wise, half-foolish. Freshman is from a Germanic root, and means a "new man." It is equivalent to another word derived from Latin, "novice," which also means a "new man." Veteran is from Latin and means "an old man."

5. Anatomy, now used in English to mean the human or animal body and the study of this body, comes from the Greek words ana and temno, " up" and "cut," because we study the human body by cutting it up, or dissecting it. The same root is found in atom, for an atom is something that is "non-cutable," which cannot be divided. This is because what we now call an atom was originally thought to be the smallest possible particle, although now we know that it is made up of still smaller ones.

6. Lethal, familiar to us in the phrases "a lethal gas" or a "lethal weapon," meaning something which kills, comes from a Latin word for death (see also the Greek "River of Lethe," the river of forgetfulness that flowed through the regions of the dead, and ultimately from a word still found in Sanskrit, meaning "to dissolve," because death is a kind of dissolution.

7. Panic comes from a Greek -word derived from the name of the god Pan, the god of the woods, because it was thought that by making strange noises in the forest or at night he was the cause of sudden fear.

8. World comes from Anglo-Saxon for a "generation of men," wer meaning man, and uld an age. (See wer-wolf, a "man-wolf," and elder, "an aged one"). Earth comes from a very ancient word meaning "the ground." Universe comes from Latin unus, "one," and versus "turned," and indicates all created things "turned into one." Cosmos is from a Greek word meaning "harmony" or "order" and indicates the universe as an orderly whole.

9. Matter comes from the Latin materia and this from mater " mother," because things are made out of matter as a child is from its mother. Form is from the Latin forma, which originally meant "face," and this from fero, "to carry," because a man wears his face like a mask. Efficient cause is from Latin ex, "out," and facere, "to make," since an efficient cause produces something out of the matter. Cause is from Latin causa, and this from cadere, "to fall" or "to happen," because a cause results in a happening. Final cause is from Latin finis, which is from findo, "to strike," because we "put an end" to something by striking or cutting it.

10. Sacrament and sacrifice, and sacred and consecrated, are all from the Latin sacer meaning something "set apart." It is also connected with our word sane (from Latin for "healthy") and safe, which all go back to an original word sa meaning "whole." The word holy and whole are related and also go back to this same word sa through a series of language changes which turned the sound s into the sound h. The words heal and hale are also connected with it. Thus in the word sacrament is contained both the notion of something set apart, and of something which heals us spiritually.

11. Religion is from the Latin re, "back," and ligo, "bind." It has the meaning both of "restrain" from sin, and "bind back" again or unite to God.

12. Month is from Anglo-Saxon for moon, because a month is measured by the change of the moon from full-moon to full-moon. But the word moon itself comes from the root ma meaning "to measure," from which "measure" itself is derived, because the moon is the measurer of time.


A. The following are examples of pure equivocation:

1. bark:
a. A sound like that made by a dog (from Anglo-Saxon beor-can, obviously onomatopoetic).
b. The rind or covering of a tree or other plant (from Scandinavian word bark).
c. A three-masted square-rigged sea-vessel, also spelled barque (from French and Latin for a boat).

2. sound:
a. The sensation received by the organ of hearing (from Latin sonus, a sound).
b. Normal, or healthy (from Anglo-Saxon gesund, "healthy").
c. A long and narrow body of water (Anglo-Saxon sund from swimmam, "swim").

3. wax:
a. As a verb it means to grow or increase.
b. As a noun it means the substance produced by bees.

B. The following are examples of analogy of connection or attribution:

1. stone:
a. Properly it means a piece of rock.
b. It is transferred as a verb to mean "to line with stone," or "to hurl stones at," or "to remove stones from." Thus the actions are named from the thing to which they are applied; the name of the effect is applied to its efficient cause.
c. It is transferred to something made out of stone, thus we speak of a "memorial stone," and "stone-work."
d. It is transferred to the effect or final cause when we say that "St. Stephen was stoned," meaning that he was dead because he had been stoned.
e. It is transferred to formal cause, when we make the adjective "stony" to indicate things which are hard like stone. Also in England it is applied to a weight or measure equal to about 14 pounds, because things are sometimes weighed with stones as a measure.

2. show:
a. Originally the word for "see," it was transferred to something to be seen, "a show or spectacle." Thus it was moved from its effect (seeing) to the thing which produced sight.
b. Then it was transferred to the act of showing what was to be seen.
c. Then it is frequently transferred to other things connected in various ways with this act of showing: a show-place (sometimes simply called "a show" or theater), a show-bill (a poster indicating the time and title of a show), a showgirl (one who acts in a show), showy, the quality that attracts the eye, etc.

3. light:
a. Properly the luminous quality which our eyes detect.
b. Transferred to mean the action of lighting a fire, or the fire used to light another.
c. Also to the state produced by light as when we say "It is light now."
d. Also it is transferred to the thing which is lighted as an "electric-light," meaning the bulb which is illuminated.
e. Also said of a quality such as a "light color."

Notice that the word light when used to mean something without weight is purely equivocal with this word, although perhaps in the remote past there was a connection.

C. The following are examples of analogy of improper similarity (see also below under metaphor as a figure of speech):

1. "I love you, O Lord, my strength,
    O Lord, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.
    My God, my rock of refuge,
    my shield, the born of my salvation, my stronghold!"

    -- Psalm 17.

2. "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-dresser. Every branch in me that bears no fruit he will take away; and every branch that bears fruit he will cleanse, that it may bear more fruit."

    -- Jn. 10:7-9.

3. She dwelt among the untrodden ways
    Beside the springs of Dove
A maid whom there were none to praise
    And very few to love:
A violet by a mossy stone
    Half bidden from the eye!
--Fair as a star, when only one
   Is shining in the sky. . . .

    -- from William Wordsworth, "Lucy."

4. Here at the fountain's sliding foot,
Or at some fruit-tree's mossy root,
Casting the body's vest aside,
My soul into the boughs does glide:
There, like a bird, it sits and sings,
Then whets and combs its silver wings,
And, till prepared for longer flight,
Waves in its plumes the various light.

    -- from Andrew Marvell, "The Garden."

D. The following are examples of analogy of proper similarity:

1. "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God. And everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love."

    -- I Jn. 4:7-8.

2. "Let wives be subject to their husbands as to the Lord; because a husband is head of the wife, just as Christ is head of the Church, being himself savior of the body. But just as the Church is subject to Christ, so also let wives be to their husbands in all things."

    -- Eph. 5:21-24,

3. "Therefore, if you, evil as you are, know bow to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!"

    -- Matt:7:11.

4. All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. . . .

    -- William Shakespeare, As You Like It


A. Metaphor and Simile.

1. The following are similes used to convey a single truth in the form of a proverb. Notice bow the comparison makes the abstract moral truth concrete and easily remembered.

"Like a golden ring in a swine's snout
is a beautiful woman with a rebellious disposition.
As vinegar to the teeth, and smoke to the eyes,
is the sluggard to those who use him as a messenger.
Like the coolness of snow in the beat of the harvest
is a faithful messenger for the one who sends him.
Like clouds and wind when no rain follows
is the man who boastfully promises what he never gives.
Like a moth in clothing, or a maggot in wood,
sorrow gnaws at the human heart.
Like cool water to one faint from thirst
is good news from a far country.
As the dog returns to his vomit,
so the fool repeats his folly.
Like a bird that is far from its nest
is a man who is far from home."
    -- Proverbs of Solomon, selected.

2. Samuel Johnson, the great literary critic, considered the following comparison "perhaps the best that English poetry can show" because "it has no useless parts, yet affords a striking picture by itself; it makes the foregoing position better understood, and enables it to take faster hold on the attention; it assists the apprehension, and elevates the fancy.

Fired at first sight with what the Muse imparts,
In fearless youth we tempt the heights of Arts,
While from the bounded level of our mind
Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind;
But more advanced, behold with strange surprise
New distant scenes of endless science rise!
So pleased at first the tow'ring Alps we try,
Mount o'er the vales, and seem to tread the sky,
Th' eternal snows appear already past,
And the first clouds and mountains seem the last;
But, those attained, we tremble to survey
The growing labors of the lengthened way,
Th' increasing prospect tires our wand'ring eyes,
Hills peep o'er hills, and Alps on Alps arise!
    -- Alexander Pope, "An Essay on Criticism."

3. The following shows a series of metaphors all explaining the same thing, but so arranged as to give us a progressively deeper and fuller understanding of it:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
    -- William Shakespeare, "Sonnet 73."

4. The following lyric is an example of the type of metaphor (often called a "conceit") which attempts to awaken our imagination by comparisons which are "far-fetched," that is, a comparison of things which at first sight seem very unalike. Such metaphors are similar to humor; if they are very light and to the point, they are very effective; but if they miss fire, they are disastrous.

Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
    The bridal of the earth and sky,
The dew shall weep thy fall to-night;
    For thou must die.
Sweet rose, whose hue, angry and brave,
    Bids the rash gazer wipe his eye,
Thy root is ever in its grave,
    And thou must die.
Sweet spring, full of sweet days and roses,
    A box where sweets compacted lie,
My music shows ye have your closes,
    And all must.
Only a sweet and soul,
    Like seasoned timber, never gives;
But though the whole world turn to coal,
    Then chiefly lives.
       -George Herbert, "Virtue."

5. The following is an example of metaphor used in a rhetorical fashion, to give us a sense of the need for action:

"And this do, understanding the time, for it is now the hour for us to rise from sleep, because our salvation is nearer than when we came to believe. The night is far advanced; the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light. Let us walk becomingly as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in debauchery and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and as for the flesh, take no thought of its lusts."
    -- St. Paul, Rom. 13:11-14.

6. The following is also a rhetorical simile used by Socrates in his defense of himself before the Athenians. He was on trial for his life on the charge of irreligion and of corrupting the youth. He wishes to make his audience understand the meaning of his mission, which was to awaken the Athenians to the need to seek for spiritual rather than material goods:

And now, Athenians, I am not going to argue for my own sake, as you may think, but for yours, that you may not sin against God by condemning me, who am his gift to you. For if you kill me you will not easily find a successor to me, who, if I may use such a ludicrous figure of speech, am a sort of gadfly, given to the state by God; and the state is a great and noble horse who is tardy in his motions owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred into life. I am that gadfly which God has attached to the state, and all day long and in all places am always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you. You will not easily find another like, and therefore I would advise you to spare me. I dare say that you may feel out of temper (like a person who is suddenly awakened from sleep), and you think that you might easily strike me dead as Anytus advises, and then you would sleep on for the remainder of your lives, unless God in his care of you sent you another gadfly. . . .
    -- Socrates, The Apology.

7. The following is also a rhetorical metaphor. Emerson is exhorting scholars to think for themselves and not to be satisfied with popular opinions and material rewards:

Why should you renounce your right to traverse the starlit deserts of truth, for the premature comforts of an acre, house, and barn? Truth also has its roof, and bed, and board. Make yourself necessary to the world, and mankind will give you bread, and if not store of it, yet such as shall not take away your property in all men's possessions, in all men's affections, in art, in nature, and in hope.
    -- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Literary Essays.

B. Irony

1. I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive (stamped on these lifeless things)
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
    -- Percy Bysshe Shelley, "Ozymandias."

2. Jonathan Swift wrote A Modest Proposal "for preventing poor people in Ireland from becoming a burden to their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the public." It is a fierce attack on the indifference of the landlords to the condition of their poor tenants. The whole is written in an apparently calm and factual style, the climax of which is the "modest proposal":

I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection. I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or ragout. I do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration that of the hundred and twenty thousand children already computed, twenty thousand be reserved for breed, whereof only one-fourth part be males; which is more than we allow to sheep, black cattle, or swine. . . . That the remaining hundred thousand may, at a year old, be offered in sale to persons of quality and fortune through the kingdom; always advising the mother to let them nurse plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump and fat for a good table. A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends; and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter. . . . I grant that this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.

C. Parallelism

1. This device is the basis of the poetry of the Hebrews and is found throughout the Bible:

"Relieve the troubles of my heart,
And bring me out of my distress.
Put an end to my affliction and my suffering,
And take away all my sins.
Behold, my enemies are many,
And they hate me violently.
Preserve my life, and rescue me;
Let me not be put to shame,
for I take refuge in you."
    -- Psalm 26.

2. Ordinarily in English, parallelism is not used in so obvious a way as by the Hebrews. Note, however, its less obvious uses in such a prose passage as the following.

Nature is the incarnation of a thought, and turns to thought again, as ice becomes water and gas. The world is mind precipitated, and the volatile essence is forever escaping again into the state of free thought. Hence the virtue and pungency of the influence on the mind of natural objects, whether inorganic or organized. Man imprisoned, man crystallized, man vegetative, speaks to man impersonated, The power which does not respect quantity, which makes the whole and the particle its equal channel, delegates its smile to the morning, and distills its essence into every drop of rain. Every moment instructs, and every object: for wisdom is infused into every form, It has been poured into us as blood; it convulsed us as pain; it slid into us as pleasure; it enveloped us in dull, melancholy days, or in days of cheerful labor; we did not guess its essence until after a long time.
    -- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

D. Antithesis

The following is from Samuel Johnson's comparison of the English poets Pope and Dryden:

Dryden knew more of man in his general nature, and Pope in his local manners. The notions of Dryden were formed by comprehensive speculation, and those of Pope by minute attention, There is more dignity in the knowledge of Dryden, and more certainty in that of Pope.

Poetry was not the sole praise of either, for both excelled likewise in prose; but Pope did not borrow his prose from his predecessor. The style of Dryden is capricious and varied, that of Pope is cautious and uniform; Dryden obeys the motions of his own mind, Pope constrains his mind to his own rules of composition. Dryden is sometimes vehement and rapid; Pope is always smooth, uniform, and gentle. Dryden's page is a natural field, rising into inequalities, and diversified" by the varied exuberance of abundant vegetation; Pope's is a velvet lawn, shaven by the scythe, and leveled by the roller.

Of genius, that power which constitutes a poet; that quality without which judgment is cold and knowledge is inert; that energy which collects, combines, amplifies, and animates -- the superiority must, with some hesitation, be allowed to Dryden. It is not to be inferred that of this poetical vigor Pope had only a little, because Dryden had more; for every other writer since Milton must give place to Pope; and even of Dryden it must be said, that if he has brighter paragraphs, he has not better poems.

E. Climax:

The following passage is from Cardinal Newman's great sermon, The Second Spring. Notice how carefully every phrase and word is chosen so as to build up a higher and higher pitch of emotion, and to avoid breaking this wave of feeling:

My Fathers, my Brothers in the priesthood, I speak from my heart when I declare my conviction, that there is no one among you here present but, if God so willed, would readily become a martyr for His sake. I do not say you would wish it; I do not say that the natural will would not pray that the chalice might pass away; I do not speak of what you can do by any strength of yours; -- but in the strength of God, in the grace of the Spirit, in the armor of justice, by the consolations and peace of the Church, by the blessing of the Apostles Peter and Paul, and in the name of Christ, you would do what nature cannot do. By the intercession of the saints on high, by the penances and good works and the prayers of the people of God on earth, you would be forcibly borne up as upon the waves of the mighty deep, and carried on out of yourselves by the fulness of grace, whether nature wished it or no. I do not mean violently, or with unseemly struggle, but calmly, gracefully, sweetly, joyously, you would mount up and ride forth to the battle, as on the rush of angel's wings, as your fathers did before you and gained the prize. You, who day by day offer up the Immaculate Lamb of God, you who hold in your hands the Incarnate Word under the visible tokens which He has ordained, you who again and again drain the chalice of the Great Victim; who is to make you fear? what is to startle you? what to seduce you? who is to stop you, whether you are to suffer or to do, whether to lay the foundations of the Church in tears, or to put the crown upon the work in jubilation?

F. Anticlimax:

The following is from Thomas De Quincey's humorous essay, Murder as a Fine Art, After discussing this art at length he ends by saying that be personally has always refrained from murder, and he gives as his reason the following:

For, if once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon be comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking and from that to incivility and procrastination. Once begun upon this downward path, you never know where you are to stop. Many a man has dated his ruin from some murder or other that perhaps lie thought little of at the time.

H. Hyperbole:

Chesterton is a master of hyperbole as of the paradox. The following is from A Defence of Humility:* [* From The Defendant, 1907, reprinted by the kind permission of Miss Dorothy E. Collins and of Messrs. A. P. Watt & Sons, Hastings House, London.]

Humility is the luxurious art of reducing ourselves to a point, not to a small thing or a large one, but to a thing with no size at all, so that all the cosmic things are what they really are -- of immeasurable stature. That the trees are high and grasses short is a mere accident of our own foot-rules and our own stature. But to the spirit which has stripped off for a moment its own idle temporal standards the grass is an everlasting forest, with dragons for denizens; the stones of the road are as incredible mountains piled one upon the other, the dandelions are like gigantic bonfires illuminating the lands around; and the heathbells on their stalks are like planets hung in heaven each higher than the other. Between one stake of a paling, and another there are new and terrible landscapes; here a desert, with nothing but one misshapen rock; here a miraculous forest, of which all the trees flower above the head with the lines of sunset; here, again, a sea full of monsters that Dante would not have dared to dream. These are the visions of him, who, like the child in the fairy tales, is not afraid to be small. Meanwhile, the sage whose faith is in magnitude and ambition is, like a giant, becoming larger and larger, which only means that the stars are becoming smaller and smaller. World after world falls from him into insignificance; the whole passionate and intricate life of common things becomes as lost to him as is the life of the infusoria to a man without a microscope. He rises always through desolate eternities. He may find now systems, and forget them; he may discover fresh universes, and learn to despise them. But the towering and tropical vision of things as they really are -- the gigantic daisies, the heaven-consuming dandelions, the great Odyssey of strange-coloured oceans and strange-shaped trees, of dust like the wreck of temples, and thistledown like the ruin of stars -- all this colossal vision shall perish with the last of the humble.

I. Litotes

1. In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is a scene in which Mercuric has just

been fatally wounded in a duel:
Romeo: Courage, man; the hurt cannot be much.
Mercutio: No. 'Tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door; but 'tis enough, 'twill serve: ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man. . . .

2. Ernest Hemingway has developed a style which is a kind of perpetual understatement, intended to convey a sense of reality without sentimentality or reflection. Actually it expresses intense emotion. The following is the opening of a short story,

After the Storm:* [*Reprinted with the kind permission of the author and Charles Scribe's Sons, from The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway.]

It wasn't about anything, something about making punch, and then we started fighting and I slipped and lie bad me down kneeling on my chest and choking me with both hands like he was trying to kill me and all the time I was trying to get the knife out of my pocket to cut him loose. Everybody was too drunk to pull him off me, lie was choking me and hammering my head on the floor and I got the knife out and opened it up; and I cut the muscle right across his arm and he let go of me. He couldn't have held on if he wanted to. Then he rolled and hung onto that arm and started to cry and I said:
     "What the hell you want to choke me for?"
I'd have killed him. I couldn't swallow for a week. He hurt my throat bad.

J. Personification:


How sleep the brave who sink to rest
By all their country's wishes blest!
When Spring, with dewy fingers cold,
Returns to deck their hallow'd mold,
She there shall dress a sweeter sod
Than Fancy's feet have ever trod.

By fairy hands their knell is rung,
By forms unseen their dirge is sung;
There Honor comes, a pilgrim grey,
To bless the turf that wraps their clay;
And Freedom shall awhile repair,
To dwell a weeping hermit there!
    -- William Collins, "Ode Written in 1746"


Do you not think that you should leave the city? If I saw that I was even undeservedly so suspected and hated by my fellow citizens, I would rather flee from their sight than be gazed at by the hostile eyes of everyone. And do you, who, from the consciousness of your wickedness, know that the hatred of of all men is just and has been long due to you, hesitate to avoid the sight and presence of those men whose minds and senses you offend? If your parents feared and hated you, and if you could by no means pacify them, you would, I think, depart somewhere out of their sight. Now, your Country, which is the common parent of all of us, hates and fears you, and has no other opinion of you than that you are meditating her murder; and will you neither feel awe of her authority, nor deference for her judgment, nor fear of her power?

And she, O Catiline, thus pleads with you, and after a manner silently speaks to you: "There has now for many years been no crime committed but by you; no atrocity has taken place without you; you alone unpunished and unquestioned have murdered the citizens, have harassed and plundered the allies; you alone have had power not only to neglect all laws and investigations, but to overthrow and break through them. Your former actions, though they ought not to have been borne, yet I did bear as well as I could; but now that I shall be wholly occupied with fear of you alone, that at every sound I should dread Catiline, that no design should seem possible to be entertained against me which does not proceed from your wickedness, this is no longer endurable. Depart, then, and deliver me from this fear; that, if it be a just one, I may not be destroyed; if an imaginary one, that at last I may at least cease to fear."
    -- Cicero, First Oration against Catiline

K. Apostrophe:


"Jerusalem, Jerusalem! thou who killest the prophets, and stonest those who are sent to thee! How often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathers her young under wings, but thou wouldst not! Behold, you house is left to you desolate. For I say to you, you shall not see me henceforth until you shall say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"' -- Matt. 23:27-29.

2. The following is a famous passage of Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage:

O Rome! my country! city of the soul!
The orphans of the heart must turn to thee,
Lone mother of dead empires! and control
In their shut breasts their petty misery.
What are our woes and sufferance? Come and see
The cypress, hear the owl, and plod your way
O'er steps of broken thrones and temples --Ye
Whose agonies are evils of a day --
A world is at our feet as fragile as our clay."