What Are Examples of Pathetic Fallacy?

One famous example of a pathetic fallacy is the scientific axiom "nature abhors a vacuum," which suggests that nature has the ability to feel abhorrence. Cultural critic John Ruskin coined the term, which refers to attributing human emotions, traits and abilities to aspects of the natural world, in the late 18th century to decry artificial sentimentality in poetry. Pathetic fallacies are commonly used in science and poetry.

In his book "Modern Painters," Ruskin sought to differentiate between examples of anthropomorphism that faithfully describes an emotion, and those that, in his opinion, contained an "untrue" quality. He used as an example of the latter a line from a Coleridge poem that states a leaf "dances as often as dance it can." The characterization of the leaf's desire to dance does not, according to Ruskin, evoke a true emotion and thus creates the pathetic fallacy. Other examples he cited included the description of a crocus as "spendthrift" and a passage in which waves "mock" the poem's protagonist.

The plays of Shakespeare contain many literary examples of pathetic fallacy, such as in the phrase "Some say the Earth/Was feverous and did shake" from "MacBeth." Another famous example is the title to the poem "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" by William Wadsworth.