Sir Walter Ralegh

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How can you identify the literary techniques in Sir Walter Ralegh's "To His Son"?

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The sonnet is written in iambic pentameter, with a pronounced caesura, or pause, near the middle of the poem. There are effective emphases on the monosyllables “the wood” and “the weed,” to which alliteration contributes. The second half of line 5 foreshadows the meaning of line 11. The poem uses anaphora, or beginning successive lines with the same word (“The”) three times in eight lines. It also uses parallelism in the first halves of lines 6-8 and has a significant shift or “turn” at line 9.

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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:

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  • 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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Identify the literary terms in the poem "To His Son" by Sir Walter Ralegh.

There is clear alliteration in "the Wood, the Weed, and the Wag," and this of course helps to emphasise these three important words and their significance to the poem as a whole. There is of course an allegorical meaning and didactic purpose to the poem as a whole, that is signalled by the opening stanza of this poem:

Three things there be that prosper up apace,
And flourish while they grow asunder far;
But on a day, they meet all in a place,
And when they meet, they one another mar.

The father is clearly warning his son about the way to live his life, and the allegory of the wood, the weed and the wag clearly is his attempt to try and instruct his son as to the best way to avoid calamity but also to threaten him with what could happen to him were he to not follow his father's advice. The son needs to therefore make sure that he never lets the wood, the weed and the wag meet together so that each can "flourish" whilst they live apart from each other. The poem is allegorical because it talks about the best way of living your life and avoiding trouble.

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