What is apostrophe? (10 examples in literature)

A literary device which is used to address or recall someone or something in his absence. Readers will be able to know what is apostrophe?, Use of Apostrophe in poetry as well as 10 examples of apostrophe in literature has been discussed in this article.

Originated from the Greek word “apostrophos” in the mid of 16th century.

What is Apostrophe?

It is a literary figure of speech which is used to address either to someone who has dead or in absence and therefore cannot hear the speaker or to an inanimate object that cannot comprehend. It provides opportunity to the speaker to think aloud. In literature, ‘apostrophe’ seldom uses as an exclamation, like “Alas”, “Oh”. It usually altersa word order but does not change the meaning of a word.

Apostrophe as a Scheme:

An ‘apostrophe’ is a ‘scheme’, which is used when the writer intends to modify the word order from the typical or what he presumes to be used in the story.

Common Examples:

  • Joe received a gift from his brother in his absence, and after opening it, he says, “Thanks brother”.
  • “Twinkle Twinkle little stars, how I wonder what you are”.
  • Johny won the match, when he reached at home and says, “hurrah! I achieved the goal”.
  • The thief hold pistol upon John and he said, “I have no fear of death”.
  • Stephen while sitting in his bedroom is thinking about her girlfriend and says, after this Christmas, “you will be mine”

Examples in Literature

“Holly Sonnets” by John Donne

“Death be not proud, thou someone had called thee” Here ‘Donne’ is addressing the death who although is not present before him.

“The Sun Rising” by John Donne

“Busy old fool, unruly Sun. Why dost thou thus. Through windows and through curtains call on us? Must to they motions lovers’ seasons run? Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide Late school-boys, and sour prentices, Go tell court huntsm’n that the King will ride, Call country ants to harvest offices; Love all al’ke, no season knows nor clime, Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time”.

Here in the above lines, the poet uses apostrophe by addressing the son who has called disturbance whey they were making love each other. He called the ‘sun’ as busy old fool and unruly sun.

“Shakespeare’s Sonnets”

“O cunning Love! With tears thou keep’st me blind”

Shakespeare is talking about “love” which is not visible entity but he visualize the love as violent fever creating madness in his blood.

“London” by Wordsworth

“Milton! thoushouldst be living at this hour”

“Wordsworth” praise for ‘Milton’ and wish that ‘Milton’ should be alive at his time in England, when his country was facing serious issues like corruption etc.

“Julius Caesar” by Shakespeare

“O’ Judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts…’

Antony speech at the funeral of Caesar is best example of apostrophe when he addresses indirectly to the Brutus and called him honourable man who also participated in conspiracy of murder of Caesar.

“Macbeth” by Shakespeare

“Is this a dagger which I see before me? The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee! I have thee not and yet I see thee still, Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible To feelings as to sight? Or art thou but A dagg’r of the mind, a false creation, Proceeding from the heat oppressed brain? I see thee vet in form as palpable As this which I now draw”.

Here the ‘apostrophe’ about dagger has been drawn. Though it remains an enigma throughout the play that whether ‘Shakespeare’ is talking about the real dagger or creates imagine yet it may be the character hallucination to which he has feared.

“The Deserted Village” by Oliver Goldsmith

“Sweet Auburn, love-liest village of the plain”

Here the character of Auburn who is under influence of the customs of the communities in Auburn has been discussed.

“Ode to Nightingale” by John Keats

“Thou was not born for death, immortal Bird! No hungry generations tread thee down; The voice, I hear this passing night was heard In ancient days by emperor and clown; Perhaps the self same song that found a path, Through the sad hear’t of Ruth when sick for home, She stood in tear’s amid the allen corn.”

The poet addresses the nightingale in this poem. Actually Keats talks about the death and to drift his mind from the death, he talks about the voice of song that can fill his mind and ears with joy. 

“The Solitary Reaper” by William Wordsworth

“O listen! for the vale profound Is overflowing with the sound.

Here the ‘Wordsworth’ is addressing the people and call them to hear the sound which is overwhelming.

“The Sick Rose” by William Lake

“O Rose thou art sick”

Here the rose has been directly addressed by the poet in his absence and called it as a sick rose.

Effects of Apostrophes

  • By bringing the non-live object into living organ, the writer will be able to convey aesthetic sense of his writing to the audience.
  • Readers co-relate these emotions to themselves
  • By producing these effects, audience is able to develop a new perception in them.

Further Reading

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