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POETIC DICTION

POETIC DICTION. A term for a poetic STYLE prevalent in the 18c and marked by some or all of the following features: fanciful epithets, such as the finny tribe for ‘fish’ and feathered songsters for ‘birds’; stock adjectives and participles, as in balmy breezes, purling brooks, honied flowers; artificial and ornate usage, such as ‘Hail, sister springs, / Parents of silverfooted rills’ (Crashaw); classical references, such as ‘Of Cerberus and blackest midnight born, in Stygian caves forlorn’ ( Milton); complex figures of speech, as in ‘My love was begotten by Despair / Upon Impossibility’ ( Marvell); archaism, as in ‘and thither came the twain’ ( Tennyson); sentimentality, such as ‘Absent from thee, I languish still’ ( Wilmot); unusual word order, such as ‘This noble youth to madness loved a dame / Of high degree’ ( Dryden). The view that because poetry and prose have distinct conventions they should also have distinct styles and usages was favoured well into the 18c. In 1742, Thomas Gray wrote that ‘the language of the age is never the language of poetry’, a view challenged by Wordsworth (Preface, Lyrical Ballads, 1798), who argued against ‘what is usually called poetic diction’. He considered that there should be no significant difference between the language of poetry and that of everyday life. However, despite an increasing 19–20c tendency to use similar styles and usages in poetry and prose, poetic usage continues to be widely regarded as more rarefied or ‘flowery’ than most kinds of prose.

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