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.
The literary apostrophe enables the speaker to develop ideas that might arise naturally and to create a vivid image expressing intense emotion.
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.”
Many English and American poets from the 17th to 19th centuries frequently used this literary device.
John Keats, William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Walt Whitman, William Shakespeare and John Donne all made use of literary apostrophe in their work.
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.
- 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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