Purpose of a Literary Apostrophe

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A literary apostrophe is a poetic figure of speech in which "an absent person or personified thing is addressed rhetorically," according to Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. A personification gives human qualities to nonhuman things. The literary device is used to give a speaker the ability to address this real or imagined listener who is not present and is often deceased.

Significance

  • The literary apostrophe enables the speaker to develop ideas that might arise naturally and to create a vivid image expressing intense emotion.

Function

  • In John Keats’ sonnet “Bright Star," the speaker addresses a distant and inanimate star as though the star has human understanding and divine power. The speaker addresses the star because it has qualities that the speaker desires. According to “Literature: An Introduction of Reading and Writing,” the point is "to dramatize the speaker’s yearning and to stress the permanence of space and eternity as contrasted with earthly impermanence.”

Time Frame

  • Many English and American poets from the 17th to 19th centuries frequently used this literary device.

Famous Examples

  • John Keats, William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Walt Whitman, William Shakespeare and John Donne all made use of literary apostrophe in their work.

Misconceptions

  • A literary apostrophe is commonly confused with the punctuation mark, which is used to show the omission of letters, to form possessives and (at times) to indicate plurals.

References

  • Literature and the Writing Process; Elizabeth McMahan, Susan X Day, and Robert Funk
  • Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing; Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs
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