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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Spring 2009

E 389M • Simile and Other Rhetorical Figures in Modern Poetry

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
34705 TTh
12:30 PM-2:00 PM
CAL 323

Course Description

Even if no contemporary poet can name a hundred schemes and tropes, as any Renaissance poet could, many poets in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have absorbed the unnamed tricks. We'll search out those tricks, give names to them, and make a stab at judging their effectiveness in specific poems. We'll also look at attempts at figurative language that flopped and ask why. Schemes and tropes that can easily be identified include simile, metaphor, metonymy, synechdoche, hyperbole, chiasmus, antimetabole, zeugma, syllepsis. ellipsis, personification, oxymoron, antithesis, catachresis, and anaphora, among the more familiar-- and among the more arcane, asyndeton, polysyndeton, epistrophe, epanalepsis, anadiplosis, polyptoton, prolepsis, restrictio, anthimeria, ploce, metalepsis, antanaclasis, epizeuxis, and chronographia.

For example, the following stanza by Auden, aside from its alliteration, is an example of synathroesmus:

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues:
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.
Synathroesmus is the figure of first giving the details and then gathering them up in recapitulation. It is sometimes instructive to see a modern poet doing intuitively what poets of an earlier age did self-consciously. It may also be revealing to compare the use of similes in twentieth-century poetry and in prose fiction, including detective fiction. The course falls under Poetry and Poetics.


There will be two packets of readings drawn from sources such as: The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, ed. Alex Preminger, T. V. F. Brogan et al. (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993); Robert Pinsky, The Situation of Poetry: Contemporary Poetry and Its Traditions (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1976; I. A. Richards, The Philosophy of Rhetoric (London: Oxford UP, 1936), Ch. 5, "Metaphor," and Ch. 6, "The Command of Metaphor"; Monroe C. Beardsley, Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism, 2nd ed. (1st ed. Harcourt, Brace & World, 1958; Indianapolis: Hackett, 1981), "Theories of Metaphor," pp. 134-47, 159-62; Jacqueline Vaught Brogan, Stevens and Simile: A Theory of Language (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1986); Wyatt Prunty, "Fallen from the Symboled World": Precedents for the New Formalism (New York: Oxford UP, 1990), and Steven G. Darian, "Similes and the Creative Process, Language & Style," 6 (1973), 48-57.


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