Tag Archives: poetry

Rhetorical Question

“Rhetorical Question: Basically a question not expecting an answer, or one to which the answer is more or less self-evident. It is used primarily for stylistic effect, and is a very common device in public speaking—especially when the speaker is trying to work up the emotional temperature. For example (a politician on the hustings:

‘Are we going to tolerate this intrusion upon our freedom? Are we going to accept these restrictions? Are we to be intimidated by time-serving bureaucrats? Are we to be suppressed by sycophantic and supine jackals waiting for dead men’s shoes?’

Or the writer may argue with himself (and in a different way work on the emotions of the reader) as Sir Philip Sidney does in the 47th sonnet of the sequence Astrophel and Stella:

‘What, have I thus betrayed my libertie?

Can those blacke beames such burning markes engrave

In my free side? Or am I borne a slave,

Whose necke become such yoke of tyranny?

Or want I sense to feel my miserie?

Or sprite, disdained of such disdaine to have?’

Another fundamental form of rhetorical question (both having something in common with the above) are: (a) a series of questions in quick succession for emphasis (e.g. “Can we make it? If so, will it work? Where can we market it? Can we market it cheaply?” and so on); (b) a question put to another person or oneself which expresses surprise, astonishment, or anger and which is not easily answered. A good example is Bolingbroke’s outburst in Richard II (I, iii, 294) after he has been banished:

‘O, who can hold a fire in his hand,

By thinking of the frosty Caucasus?

Or cloy the hungry edge of appetite

By bare imagination of a feast?

Or wallow naked in December snow,

By thinking on fantastic summer’s heat?'”

Excerpted from: Cuddon, J.A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. New York: Penguin, 1992.

Rotten Reviews: On Robert Frost

“If it were thought that anything I wrote was influenced by Robert Frost, I would take that particular work of mine, shred it, and flush it down the toilet, hoping not to clog the pipes.”

James Dickey

Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.   

Man of Letters

“Man of Letters: A well-educated, well-read, civilized and perhaps learned person—who may also be a writer (e.g. a belle-lettrist). ‘A man of capital letters,’ on the other hand, is one who thinks he is these things but is, in fact, very limited. Pope’s victims in The Dunciad might be called ‘men of capital letters’. See also BELLES LETTRES; LITERATI.”

Excerpted from: Cuddon, J.A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. New York: Penguin, 1992.


“Anachronism: [Stress: “a-NA-kronizm’] In rhetoric, the appearance of a person or thing in the wrong epoch, such as the clock in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Linguistic anachronisms are generally a matter of awareness, context, and expectation: for example, the archaism wight (person, man) may be appropriate at a seminar on the Elizabethan poet Spenser, but is incongruous and probably unintelligible elsewhere. Similarly, a character in a period novel who says OK long before the phrase was current rings false for anyone who knows (or senses) that its time is out of joint.”

Excerpted from: McArthur, Tom. The Oxford Concise Companion to the English Language. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Cultural Literacy: Cyclops

Here is a Cultural Literacy worksheet on Cyclops. This is a half-page worksheet with a four-sentence reading and three comprehension questions. It covers the basics of this one-eyed, mythical creature, including Odysseus’s encounter with Polyphemus in The Odyssey.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.


“Antithesis (noun): The juxtaposing of contrasting words or ideas through parallel of balanced phrasing; rhetorical counterposing of opposites, as by asserting something and denying its contrary; the second or opposite element in an expressed contrast. Pl. antitheses; adj. antithetic, antithetical; adv. antithetically.

‘The poet ate his salad with his fingers, leaf by leaf, while talking to me about the antithesis of nature and art.’ Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar.”

Excerpted from: Grambs, David. The Random House Dictionary for Writers and Readers. New York: Random House, 1990.


“Couplet: In prosody, a pair of lines forming a unit, usually either because they set off as a separate stanze or because they rhyme. The best-known couplet is the soc-called heroic couplet.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

Women Beware Women

“Women Beware Women: A tragedy by Thomas Middleton (1580-1627). It has not been established when he wrote it (some time before 1622), but the works was published posthumously in 1657. The admonitory title primarily refers to the character Livia (although none of the other characters is particularly savoury). In the main plot Livia distracts Leontio’s mother with a game of chess while the duke seduces Leontio’s wife, Bianca. In the subplot Livia persuades her niece Isabella that she is not related to Uncle Hippolito, Livia’s brother, so that mutual lust may be consummated. The corpse count by the end of the play is high. Apparently T.S. Eliot was alluding to the scene featuring the game of chess in the title of Part II of The Waste Land (1922), ‘A Game of Chess’, although the only reference to chess is in the lines:

And we shall play a game of chess,

Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.

Middleton’s political satire, A Game at Chess, which he wrote in 1624, was also admired by Eliot.”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

A Learning Support on the Literary Terms Poetry, Prose, and Prose Poem

In response to a student question the other day about the difference between prose and poetry–the prose poem “A Story About the Body” by Robert Hass was that day’s lesson in our English class and occasioned the question–I whipped up this learning support on the literary terms poetry, prose, and prose poem. This document is a single page with three short passages of text from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia. It’s basically a glossary.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Nineteen Eighty-Four

“Nineteen Eighty-Four: A dystopian novel (1949) by George Orwell (1903-50). The book comprises a prophecy of the totalitarian future of mankind, portraying a society in which government propaganda and terrorism destroy human awareness of reality. It is generally thought that Orwell named the novel by reversing the last two figures of the year in which it was written, 1948, but an article by Sally Coniam in the Times Literary Supplement of 31 December 1999 proposed another theory. In 1934 Orwell’s first wife, Eileen O’Shaughnessy, published a poem, ‘End of the Century 1984,’ in The Chronicle, the school magazine of Sunderland Church High School, where she had been a pupil in the 1920s. The poem was written to mark the school’s 50th anniversary, looking back then forward to the future and to the schools centenary in 1984. It seems likely that Orwell could have adopted the year accordingly, although for him it was a random date. Support for this lies in the poem’s mention of ‘telesalesmanship’ and ‘Telepathic Station 9,’ terms strangely modern for their time, which seem to prefigure Orwell’s own ‘Newspeak,’ teleprogrammes,’ and ‘telescreen.’

Following the publication of Orwell’s novel, the year 1984—until it came and went—was long regarded as apocalyptic, and as such was even entered in the Oxford English Dictionary. Appropriately enough, a film version entitled 1984 starring John Hurt and Richard Burton was released in 1984.”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.