How might one identify the literary techniques that exist in the poem "To His Son" by Sir Walter Ralegh?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Although Sir Walter Ralegh’s poem “To His Son” is brief because it is a 14-line sonnet, the poem employs many common literary techniques, which enhance its effectiveness.  Among these techniques are the following:

  • Alliteration, as in “prosper up apace” (1), as well as in all the “th” sounds of line 1.
  • Iambic pentameter meter, as in line 1, in which each even syllable is accented and each odd syllable is unaccented.
  • Use of a pronounced caesura, or pause, in or near the middle of a line, as in lines 2, 3, 4, etc.
  • Assonance, as in “day” and “place” in line 3.
  • Effective emphasis on monosyllables, as in “the wood, the weed, the wag” of line 5, where the emphasis is created by the rhythm, the repetition of “the,” the alliteration of “w,” and the near-rhyme of “wood” and “weed.”
  • Foreshadowing, as in the first half of line 5.
  • Anaphora, or beginning successive lines with the same word, as in the repeated use of “The” in lines 6-8.
  • Parallel sentence structure, as in the first halves of lines 6-8.
  • Vivid imagery, as in the images that end lines 6 and 7.
  • Direct address, as in the beginning of line 9.
  • A significant shift or “turn” in line 9, after the octave (first eight-line passage) of the sonnet has ended and as the sestet (final six-line passage) begins.
  • Trochaic substitution where an iamb is expected, as at the beginning of line 10. Where we are expecting an unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable, Ralegh suddenly gives us instead the reverse of that pattern at the beginning of this line.
  • Completion of a numerical pattern, as in the third of the threes discussed in line 8.
  • Repetition of a numerical pattern, as in the third set of threes in line 10.
  • Startling imagery, as in the conclusion of line 12:

It frets the halter, and it chokes the child.

  • Enjambment, or the absence of punctuation at the end of a line so that the meaning flows smoothly from one line to the next, without interruption, as in the transition from line 13 to line 14.

 

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