Chiasmus 16: phonemes and poetry

In his essay, ‘The ways of the possible: a textual analysis of “gifts of rain” by Seamus Heaney,’ Adolphe Haberer analyses instances of chiasmus in the poem at the phonological level.


I will focus on one line (the first) for the sake of time, and break it up as he does phonetically to reveal the pattern beneath:

“Cloudburst and steady downpour now”


A: kl d
B: b st
B: st d
A: d n

or aʊ st st aʊ.




Chiasmus 15: reblog from Deja Reviewer on Robocop (1987)

Chiasmus 15: reblog from Deja Reviewer on Robocop (1987)

A great analysis of cinematic chiasmus. Love it! Click View Original Post to read this post and more examples of cinematic chiasmus on Deja Reviewer’s page.

Deja Reviewer

The Old Testament is full of examples of chiasmus, which is a figure of speech used in ancient times to emphasize balance. It lists a bunch of ideas or things and then repeats each of them in reverse order. It’s often not an identical repetition. It frequently uses the opposite of what came before or something similar to it.

Here’s a simple chiasmus I came up with to show you what it looks like:

A. The cat was heavy

 B. She ate too much food

  C. Something had to change

 B. I gave her less food to eat

A. Now she’s less heavy

The first and last lines are similar, the second and fourth lines are opposite but related, and the third line is the turning point that links the ideas contained in the chiasmus.

Why am I giving a grammar lesson? Because I’ve noticed this same…

View original post 1,719 more words

Chiasmus 14: Why?

Robert. A. Harris in his book, A handbook of Rhetorical devices, suggests it is useful for those sentences where you want balance, but which cannnot be paralleled effectively. Either they were too short, or the emphasis was placed on the wrong words.

Here is one of his examples:

The original parallel sentence: “What is now great was at first little”

A —- now
B —- great
A —- at first
B —- little

Converted to chiasmus becomes: “What is now great was little at first.”

A —- now
B —- great
B —- little
A —- at first

Chiasmus 13: the refrain

Love's Deity
I long to talk with some old lover's ghost,
      Who died before the god of love was born.
I cannot think that he, who then lov'd most,
      Sunk so low as to love one which did scorn.
But since this god produc'd a destiny,
And that vice-nature, custom, lets it be,
      I must love her, that loves not me.

   Sure, they which made him god, meant not so much,
      Nor he in his young godhead practis'd it.
But when an even flame two hearts did touch,
      His office was indulgently to fit
Actives to passives. Correspondency
Only his subject was; it cannot be
      Love, till I love her, that loves me.

   But every modern god will now extend
      His vast prerogative as far as Jove.
To rage, to lust, to write to, to commend,
      All is the purlieu of the god of love.
O! were we waken'd by this tyranny
To ungod this child again, it could not be
      I should love her, who loves not me.

   Rebel and atheist too, why murmur I,
      As though I felt the worst that love could do?
Love might make me leave loving, or might try
      A deeper plague, to make her love me too;
Which, since she loves before, I'am loth to see.
Falsehood is worse than hate; and that must be,
      If she whom I love, should love me.]

In the above poem, the narrator criticises the god of love for creating unrequited love, and thus his intolerable situation. Chiasmus in the refrain maintains the emphasis on the keywords: ‘love’, and ‘me’: the words the narrator wants to hear from the woman he desires.

I must love her, that loves not me

A —- I (must)
B —- love her
B —- that loves
A —- (not) me

Love, till I love her, that loves me

A —- (love, till) I
B —- love her
B —- that loves
A —- me

I should love her, who loves not me

A —- I (should)
B —- love her
B —- who loves
A —- (not) me

If she whom I love, should love me

A —- (If) she
B —- Whom I love
B —- should love
A —- me

The confident ‘I must love her’ is transformed in the course of four stanzas to the final pitiful, “she should love me”. Chiasmus allows the author to maintain a steady, recognisable refrain, while showing the narrator’s dawning realisation his love won’t be returned as the poem comes to a close.

Chiasmus 12: Mae West, master-mistress of the quip

With chiasmus, you only need the first half of the line to recall the rest, so it’s highly quotable.

“I always say, keep a diary and someday it’ll keep you.” – Mae West, actress and screenwriter, as Peaches O’Day in Every Day’s a Holiday (1937).

or ABBA:

A —- (you) keep
B —- diary
B —- it
A —- will keep you

Though Every Day’s a Holiday may  remain a bygone, the immortal quip lives on.



Chiasmus 11: Sonnet 20


What is a sonnet?

A poem of fourteen lines. The two main types are the English, or Shakespearean sonnet, and the Italian, or Petrarchan sonnet. The English version is written in iambic pentameter.

What is a Shakespearean sonnet?

The Shakespearean variant consists of three quatrains and a couplet: abab cdcd efef gg

(A) A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted
(B) Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;
(A) A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted
(B) With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion;
(C) An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
(D) Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
(C) A man in hue, all hues in his controlling,
(D) Which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.
(E) And for a woman wert thou first created;
(F) Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
(E) And by addition me of thee defeated,
(F) By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
(G) But since she prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure,
(G) Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.

What does it do?

The first line usually introduces a question or statement to be explored in the lines that follow,e.g., ‘Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day’, ‘My love is as a fever, longing still’. The body of the poem will explore one conceit throughout, or develop into a string of metaphors. Either way, it will take a dramatic twist, or volta, in the ninth line, or later. Finally, it will conclude with a couplet which either summarises or offers a new perspective on the material. Sonnet 20 can be simplified (arguably) as:

  • lines 1-4: You have a woman’s face which I find attractive, and a woman’s gentle heart.
  • lines 5-8: But you are a man (as am I) who is attractive to both men and women.
  • lines 8-12: Mother nature made you a woman first, but she was so attracted to you she changed her mind and gave you a penis for her pleasure which thwarted my love (‘not acquainted’, or no cunt)/’pricked thee out’, or gave you a prick).
  • lines 12-14: No worries! I, brave narrator, can have your love, and the women can have your prick. (Yes, it’s a vast simplification, but I hope it serves to show how the argument develops.)

So what has this all got to do with chiasmus?

Well, if you look at the final line of the poem’s couplet, you will see it is an example of chiasmus:

Mine be thy love, and thy love’s use their treasure

or ABBA:

A —- Mine be
B —- thy love
B —- thy love’s use
A —- their treasure

Chiasmus accentuates the cross-purpose in the poem (narrator/man vs. mother nature/women in conflict for the feminine man), while allowing the last line to focus on one key word  – love.