sharp contrast with the literal statement. It does not deceive the reader; it simply draws his attention, as by a violent gesture, to the real object.

1. Hyperbole. — This trope (the word means to cast beyond ”) states a fact in words that we know to be impossible or extremely improbable. It shows that we must believe as far as we can in the direction indicated. Countless houses is a term by which we understand houses so numerous that it would be very difficult to count them, or would take a long time. The hyperbole is common in all speech. In poetry it is also abundant.

“I was all ear,
And took in strains that might create a soul

Under the ribs of death.” Comus.
“Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood

Clean from my hand? No: this my hand will rather
The multitudinous sea incarnadine,

Making the green one red.” Macbeth.
“ When I lie tangled in her hair

And fettered to her eye.” — Lovelace, To Althea. Hyperbole easily degenerates into rant. Shakspere intentionally ridicules this in Hamlet's wild speech at Ophelia's grave. Unintentionally, Lee, the tragedian, rants in his well-known passage :

Pouring forth tears at such a lavish rate,
That were the world on fire, they might drown

The wrath of heaven, and quench the mighty ruin.” This, as Blair remarks, is "mere bombast." But a slight step makes 'the trope forcible in Macbeth's nervous words :

• Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye

That tears shall drown the wind."

The hyperbole, as Lord Kaims pointed out, must not contain an absurd and contradictory statement. On this ground we condemn Pope's couplet :

“When first young Maro in his boundless mind

A work ť outlast immortal Rome designed.” 2. Litotes. — This is the opposite of the hyperbole. It understates. It stops far short of the actual truth. We feel the sharp contrast between the insufficient statement and the literal fact, and we hasten to do the subject right and justice. Thus Chaucer, describing a fat, jolly, rosy, ease-loving monk, says :

• He was not pale as a sorpyned gost.” So in Par. Lost :

" Whereof in Hell Fame is not silent.” 3. Euphemism.

- There are certain forms of religion in low stages of culture where the good gods are neglected — they will do no harm — and the bad gods are overwhelmed with gifts and flattery. To these are given good names : the wish is father to the thought, they are called good in hopes that they will be good. Even the Greek word Eumenides was given to the Furies, who, as Æschylus tells us, spoil the growing corn and fruit. There are similar names in our own mythology. Now this same spirit crops out in the disguise of modern Euphemism. This term (“speaking well of ') is applied to that trope which, in contrast to the literal badness of the object, gives it a good name. In exalted style, we use Euphemism for harmful, destructive things; in familiar style, for disagreeable things. Especially is it used of death.

“ How sleep the brave who sink to rest

By all their country's wishes blest!”


“ After life's fitful fever, he sleeps well.” — Macbeth.

· Ah, Warwick, Montague hath breathed his last.”

For the second case, in Hamlet (11. I), instead of "intoxicated ” we have the polite “o'ertook.Cf. such colloquial and rather vulgar expressions as “appropriated” for plain “stolen.”

4. Irony. — The contrast here consists in our believing the opposite of what is said. Irony may be light, almost harmless, as in Sterne; merciless and biting, as in Swift. Poetically it is often used:

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“Now get you to my lady's chamber,” says Hamlet to Yorick's skull, "and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come; make her laugh at that.A most admirable example of compliment shading into irony, and irony into bitter sarcasm, is Marc Antony's speech about the “honorable men.” Finally, we get the plain statement with the word “ traitors.”

In epic poetry, irony alternates with direct abuse, as in speeches of warriors about to fight. So Gabriel calls Satan “courageous chief."


The terms Trope and Figure have often been confused. Metaphors are called “figurative" language, and Trope is often just as loosely understood. But the distinction is useful and just. A trope deals with the expressions themselves; a figure, with their relations and arrangement.

Figures may be based on Repetition, on Contrast, or on Combination.

§ 1. FIGURES OF REPETITION. The repetition of certain relations of sounds is, as we shall see, the basis of metre; there is also a harmony and poetic effect gained by repetition of words and phrases.

1. Iteration. — Single words are repeated. This is very common in dirges and in passages expressive of deep emotion. The tendency is to dwell on one name or thought. Lycidas is very remarkable in this respect:

“ For Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime,

Young Lycidas, and hath not left his peer.

Who would not weep for Lycidas?” The poem is full of such iteration.

So in Paradise Lost: “though fall’n on evil times, On evil times though fall'n and evil tongues.” The strong passion and wonder of Hamlet find expression by dwelling on two words :

“Oh villain, villain, smiling, damned villain !

My tables — meet it is I set it down
That one may smile and smile and be a villain.”

For sacred poetry, see the song of Deborah, Judges v. 26-28.

Without any reference to emotion, iteration is used for the harmony of verse.

“ Sweet is the breath of morn, her rising sweet."

“ See golden days fruitful of golden deeds.”

Both are from Paradise Lost. Milton thoroughly understood such cadences and harmonies. More involved iteration is seen in the following:

Increasing store with loss and loss with store."

Might hide her faults, if belles had faults to hide."

Or George Puttenham's example:

“ Much must he be beloved that loveth much ;

Feare many must he needs, whom many feare."

In these latter examples we find antithesis also. Cf. § 3 of this chapter.

2. This iteration may vary the application of the word.

“ Treason doth never prosper. What's the reason?

If it doth prosper, none dare call it treason."

“When thou hast done, thou hast not done;

For I have more.". Donne.

“ And every fair from fair sometimes declines." - Shakspere. “ How beautiful, if sorrow had not made

Sorrow more beautiful than beauty's self.” – Keats.

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