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3.2. Poetic words

Poetic words form a rather insignificant layer of the special literary vocabulary. They are mostly archaic or very rarely used highly literary words which aim at producing an elevated effect, like e.g. Ukrainian words уста, ланіти, перст, браття, возлюбити, недруг, супокій etc.

In the epoch of classicism, for example, there was a tendency to create special poetic style in which “simple”, “rough” and plain words of the folk language were not allowed, whereas new lexical, morphological and syntactical norms were created. The following stanzas of S. Johnson which abounds in highly elevated metaphors, abstract nouns and adjectives with the strong evaluative component can be a vivid example of this style:

Friendship, peculiar boon of heaven,

The noble mind’s delight and pride,

To men and angels only given,

To all the lower world denied,

While love, unknowen among the blest,

Parent of thousand wild desires,

The savage and the human breast

Torments alike with raging fires


Nor shall thine ardours ceased to glow,

When souls to peaceful climes remove;

What rais’d our virtue here below,

Shall aid our happiness above.

At the beginning of XIX-th century the classical canons of poetic diction were rejected by some poets-romanticists (G.G. Byron, P.B. Shelley, J. Keats) who strived to enrich the language of poetry using dialectal, archaic elements, new expressive means taken from ancient literature or built on the basis of live, colloquial forms of native language.

In modern English poetic words are not freely built in contrast to neutral, colloquial and common literary words, or terms. There is, however, one means of creating new poetic words still recognized as productive even in present-day English, viz. the use of a contracted form of a word instead of the full one, e. g. drear instead of dreary, scant – scanty. Sometimes the reverse process leads to the birth of a poeticism, e. g. vasty – vast. These two conventional devices are called forth by the requirements of the metre of the poem, to add or remove a syllable, and are generally avoided by modern English poets.

Alongside with the specific word-building models in modern English there are a certain number of words which have constant poetic connotations and are marked in the dictionaries by a special stylistic label – poet.

In order to exemplify the usage of poetic vocabulary let us consider the humoristic poem of J. Updike in which the bigotry to the classical poetic canons is derided:


At verses she was not inept!

Her feet were neatly numbered.

She never cried, she softly wept,

She never slept, she slumbered.

She never ate and rarely dined

Her tongue found sweetmeats sour.

She never guessed but oft divined

The secrets of the flower.

A flower! Fragrant, pliant, clean,

More dear to her than crystal.

She knew what earnings dozed between

The stamen and the pistil

Dawn took her thither to the wood,

At even, home she hithered.

Ah, to the gentle Pan is god

She never died, she withered (J. Updike).

Poetic words (предковічний, славнозвісний, многостраждальний, возносити, уславляти, etc) are not infrequent in modern Ukrainian poetic discourse.

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