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Climax is the enumeration of many particulars in one period or whole sense, intended to produce one effect of persuasion or conviction in the minds to which it is addressed. In climax or gradation the most important idea of the whole assemblage is the last mentioned. From the beginning to the end of the climax it is proper that each particular enumerated should rise in dignity of sense above the preceding.
Mr. Walker in his Rhetorical Grammar gives an example of Climax from the Spectator :
"Mr Addison has a beautiful climax of circumstances arising one above another, when he is describing the treatment of Negroes in the West Indies, who sometimes, upon the death of their masters, or upon changing their service, hang themselves upon the next tree.
"' Who can forbear admiring their fidelity, though it expresses itself in so dreadful a manner? What might not that savage greatness of soul, which appears in these poor wretches on many occasions, be raised to, were it rightly cultivated ? and what colour of excuse can there be for the contempt with which we treat this part of our species ? That we should not put them
the common foot of humanity ; that we should only set an insignificant fine upon the man who murders them, nay, that we should, as much as in us lies, cut them off from the prospects of happiness in another world as well as in this, and deny them that which we look upon as the proper means for attaining it ?'”
Here Mr. Addison first mentions the virtues of the poor negroes, and then contrasts the cruel treatment of white men with their deserts. This cruel treatment in fact is this : We—Mr. Addi. son meant the Europeans, but his remarks apply to some Americans of the present age-We, says he in effect
, deny them to possess the understandings of men ; we consider them brute animals ; we do not punish their murderers; and we not only deprive them of liberty and the sympathies that exist between man and man in this world, but we refuse to consider them as immortal beings, and withhold from them the knowledge necessary to their salvation. It is very plain that the last articles of this passage--the immortal soul, and its final happiness in heaven—are considerations of greater magnitude, in regard to the negro character, the abuse it has suffered, and the redress that the author here claims for it, than any he had previously detailed.
This example is not taken from poetry, but Climax is a figure which occurs in poetry. Anticlimax is often used as to denote a foolish representation of facts, which exaggerates the unim
portant, and gives the least regard to the more important particulars under consideration.
Apostrophe is an abrupt address to the absent. It sometimes partakes of the character of personification : as St. Paul, in holy rapture, exclaims.
"Oh Grave! where is thy victory ? Oh Death! where is thy sting ?"
The Minstrel in Scott's Lay, breaks out, at the thought of his beloved country, into this apostrophe :
"O Caledonia, stern and wild,
That knits me to thy rugged strand !" Personification is the investing of qualities, or things inanimate, with the character of persons, or the introducing of dead or absent persons as if they were alive and present.
The following example of the figure of personification is from Milton's Comus. The poet personifies Virtue, Wisdom, and Contemplation :
" Virtue could see to do what virtue would
Were all too ruffled, and sometimes impaired."
King of intimate delights, Fire-side enjoyments, homeborn happiness"and has introduced him in a very picturesque description : thus,
" O Winter, ruler of the inverted year,
But urged by storms along its slippery way, -
And dreaded as thou art !" Allegory is a prolonged use of figures, so connected in sense as to form a parable or fable. Gray's Ode to Adversity is an allegory.
“ ODE To ADVERSITY.
Daughter of Jove, relentless power,
Thou tamer of the human breast,
The bad affright, afflict the best!
And purple tyrants vainly groan
Virtue, his darling child, designed,
And bade to form her infant mind.
What sorrow was, thou bad'st her know,
Scared at thy frown terrific, fly
Self-pleasing Folly's idle brood,
And leave us leisure to be good.
By vain prosperity received,
Wisdom in sable garb arrayed,
Immersed in rapturous thought profound,
With leaden eye that loves the ground,
With Justice, to herself severe,
Oh, gently on thy suppliant's head,
Dread Goddess, lay thy chastning hand !
Not circled with the vengeful band
With screaming horror's funeral cry,
Thy form benign, oh Goddess ! wear,
Thy milder influence impart,
To soften, not to wound my heart.
Exact my own defects to scan,
What others are to feel, and know myself a man." Mr. Gray has thus personified Misfortune or Adversity. He has represented her as the daughter of the supreme Deity, but employed to affright the bad, and afflict the best men—"Whom he loveth, he chasteneth," or purifieth, say the Hebrew Scriptures. Perhaps this excellent poet had this passage in his mind when he wrote this stanza. "Sweet are the uses of adversity," says Shakspeare, and so has Gray represented them. — By the sadness of the countenance, the heart is made better," says Solomon. Taught by our sufferings, we learn to pity others; we abandon our follies, and gain leisure to be good. When we are in affliction, the sordid, and the frivolous, who shared the pleasures of our prosperity, forsake us ; but our virtues — wisdom, meditation, charity, justice, and pity, remain with us, and console us. The poet, having asserted this, changes the form of his verses to apostrophe, and entreats the goddess, as he terms Adversity, to spare him from the severest inflictions of her hand, and to purify and exalt his heart. Young persons should commit these fine verses to memory.
Antithesis is a figure by which words and ideas very different, or contrary, are placed together, in contrast or opposition, that they may mutually set off and illustrate each other.
In Blair's Sermon on Gentleness the annexed example of Antithesis may be found :
“ As there is a worldly happiness which God perceives to be no more than disguised misery ; as there are worldly honours which in his estimation are reproach : so there is a worldly wisdom which in his sight is foolishness. Of this worldly wisdom the characters are given in the Scriptures, and placed in contrast with those of the wisdom which is from above. The one is the wisdom of the crafty; the other that of the upright : the one terminates in selfishness; the other in charity : the one is full of strife and bitter envyings; the other of mercy and of good fruits."
The antithetical words of this passage are printed in italics — Happiness and misery, honour and reproach, wisdom and foolishness, are ideas in direct opposition—and the remaining antitheses of the period are, it is presumed, quite as clear.
The preceding definitions are not as full as might be, but they are simple, and necessary to be understood in order to read
poetry with satisfaction and good taste.