Archaism Examples in Literature

Archaism is a literary figure of speech, which was employed in writing ancient English words. However, the use of these words are recede now. In this article, definition and archaism examples in literature has been discussed.

What is Archasim?

‘Archaism’ was derived from the word ‘arkhaios’ which means ancient. A word or style in writing which has been old-fashioned and no longer in use. It was commonly used in the poetry until the end of the 19th century. Many ‘arhaisms’ were linked to the age of chivalry and romances.

There is no denial to this fact that archiac words are no longer in use. Readers of today’s era are unable to get their meaning. Yet some of the archaic words are similar with the new English words.

Common Examples:

i. This above all: to thine own self be true.
ii. This above all: be true to yourself

Let start with Archaism Examples in literature.

Archaism Examples in Literature:

Psalms 139:1-4

Lord, thou hast examined me ad knowest me.
Thou knowest all, whther I sit down or rise up;
Thou hast discerned my thoughts from afar
Thou hast traced my journey and my resting places,
And art familiar with all my paths.

Here the words “Thou” for you, “knowest” for know, “Art” for are and “Hast” for has are archaic words.

The Rime of Ancient Mariner by S.T. Coleridge

He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast

‘The Rime of Ancient Mariner’ is one of the finest poem of ‘Coleridge’. In this poem, the ‘archaic’ words have been widely used. The plot of the poem is fascinating the readers. The main them is about the sin and its punishment. In the above lines, ‘prayeth’ is the archaic word.

The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser

Such is the crueltie of womenkynd,
When they have shaken off the shamefast band,
With which wise Nature did them strongly bynd,
T’obay the heasts of mans well ruling hand,
That then all rule and reason they withstand,
To purchase a licentious libertie.
But virtuous women wisely understand,
That they were borne to base humilitie,
Unlesse the heavens them lift to lawfull soveraintie.

The writer in order to create the spirit and atmosphere of chivalry and devotion in the Middle Ages used a sort of poetic diction which was partly archaic and partly self-creating. The words like, ‘crueltie’, ‘womenkynd’, ‘bynd, ‘T’obay’, ‘heasts’, ‘libertie’, ‘humilitie’, ‘unlesse’ and ‘lawful soveraintie’ are archaic words.

“A Fairy Tale by Thomas Parnell’s

With that Sir Topaz, hapless youth!
In accents faultering, ay for ruth
Intreats them pity graunt;
For als he been a mister wight,
Betray’d by wandering in the night
To tread the circled haunt.”

‘A Fairy Tale’ has been written in ancient English style. Though the common readers cannot understand it and they are unable to devise meaning of the poem, yet the words used in the poem are no longer in practice. So, the reference of these words have been given in order to familiarize the readers with the archaic words. In the above stanza, the words, ‘ruth’, ‘graunt’, ‘als’, ‘wight’ are archaic words.

The Eve of Saint Mark by Keats

‘Gif ye wol stonden hardie wight-
Amiddes of the blacke night
Righte in the churche porce, pardie
Ye wol behold a companie
Appouchen thee full dolourouse
For sooth to sain from everich house
Be it in city or village
Wol come the Phantom and image
Of ilka gent and ilka carle
Whom colde Deathe hath in parle
And wol some day that very year
Touchen with foule venime spear
And sadly do them all to die

The above stanza was actualy written in the 14th century when the maiden Fair Bertha is reading the ‘legend page’ of ‘Holy mark’.

And so on for a further nineteen lines before he reverse to normal language thus:

“At length her constant eyelids come
Upon the fervent martyrdom;
The lastly to his holy shrine,
Exalt amid the tapers’ shine
At Venice,

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Perhaps he loves you now,
And now no soil nor cautel doth besmirch
The virtue of his will
There; my blessing with thee,
And these few precepts in thy memory,
Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue
I find thee apt;
And duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed
That rots itself in ease on Lethe wharf,
Wouldst thou not stir in this”

The fascinating and widely recognized play in the history of English literature written by William Shakespeare. Though the major scenes of the play are in old English language, yet the new English version with meaning of these words are also available, that can better help the readers to understand the spirit of the play. In the above stanza, the italic words are the example of archaism.

Why Writers Use Archaic Words:

Modern writers used archaic words to add grandeur to their writing. In the past, these words were used to create sense of humor or irony. These words were mostly used in poetry. The sound pattern of the archaic words develop fanciful effect in writing. However, with the passage of time and development in the English literature, the use of archaic words had become vanished.

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