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Anastrophe

[uh-nas-truh-fee]
Anastrophe is a figure of speech involving an inversion of the ordinary Western order of words; for example, saying "echoed the hills" to mean "the hills echoed". In English, with its settled word order, departure from the expected word order emphasizes the displaced word or phrase: "beautiful" is emphasized in the City Beautiful urbanist movement; "primeval" comes to the fore in Longfellow's line "This is the forest primeval." Yoda from the Star Wars series commonly uses anastrophe. Where the emphasis that comes from anastrophe is not an issue, "inversion" is a perfectly suitable synonym.

Anastrophe is common in Greek and Latin poetry. For example, in the first line of the Æneid:

Arma virumque cano, Troiæ qui primus ab oris
("I sing of arms and the man, who first from the shores of Troy")

the genitive case noun Troiæ ("of Troy") has been separated from the noun it governs (oris, "shores") in a way that would be rather unusual in Latin prose. In fact, given the liberty of Latin word order, "of Troy" might be taken to modify "arms" or "the man", but it is not the custom to interpret the word that way.

Anastrophe also occurs in English poetry. For example, in the third verse of Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

He holds him with his skinny hand,
"There was a ship," quoth he.
"Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!"
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.

the word order of "his hand dropt he" is not the customary word order in English, even in the archaic English that Coleridge seeks to imitate. However, excessive use of the device where the emphasis is unnecessary or even unintended, especially for the sake of rhyme or metre, is usually considered a flaw; consider the clumsy versification of Sternhold and Hopkins's metrical psalter:

The earth is all the Lord's, with all
her store and furniture;
Yea, his is all the work, and all
that therein doth endure:

For he hath fastly founded it
above the seas to stand,
And placed below the liquid floods,
to flow beneath the land.

However, some poets have a style that depends on heavy use of anastrophe. Gerard Manley Hopkins is particularly identified with the device, which renders his poetry susceptible to parody:

Hope holds to Christ the mind’s own mirror out
To take His lovely likeness more and more.

When anastrophe draws an adverb to the head of a thought, for emphasis, the verb is drawn along too, resulting in a verb-subject inversion:

"Never have I found the limits of the photographic potential. Every horizon, upon being reached, reveals another beckoning in the distance" (W. Eugene Smith).

Source: public domain 1913 Webster's Dictionary

References

  • Smyth, Herbert Weir (1920). Greek Grammar. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-36250-0.

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