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9&60 Ways - Chiasmus: Criss-Cross Away

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Old 03-31-2009, 09:42 PM
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Default 9&60 Ways - Chiasmus: Criss-Cross Away


Let's dig into syntax this time, and dally in sentences deep. (I couldn't resist trying it!)

Chiasmus ("kee-AZ-mus") is an ancient rhetorical device. It's found in the Hebrew and Greek scriptures, Latin poetry, and English poetry. The word comes from the Greek letter chi: X. That X tells us what chiasmus is all about: a criss-crossing of elements. The best way to explain it is to show it. In my first sentence above, "dig" and "deep" go together, as do "syntax"/"sentence" and "time"/"dally". To see the X's, break the line at the comma and draw lines connecting these elements!

Here's an example from the book of Psalms 3:7-8 (literal translations work best). Each letter, A, B, C, etc, marks a line with a particular idea, like "salvation" or "face". See how the ideas are repeated in a pattern?

A Rise, O Jehovah! save me,
__B my God.
____C Because Thou hast smitten
______D all mine enemies
_______E on the cheek.
________E' The teeth
______D' of the wicked
____C' Thou hast broken.
__B' Of Jehovah
A' is this salvation...

The Romans were no slouches either. Years after Pliny the Elder died watching Vesuvius erupt, Pliny the Younger wrote a letter, describing his uncle as "hastening then to the place from whence others fled...." He sandwiched two references to place between two references to swift motion.

Shakespeare used chiasmus, too. This is from "Othello":

A Who dotes,
__B yet doubts;
__B' suspects,
A' yet strongly loves.

Some people define chiasmus more narrowly yet, as a criss-crossing of exact words or phrases, as in this example from a speech of John F. Kennedy: "Ask not what your country(A) can do for you(B); ask what you(B') can do for your country(A')!"

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to try your hand at chiasmus! You can write yours with or without the chart. You can make it big (the whole poem!) or small (just a line or two). Have fun with it!

Questions and comments about this lesson go in this thread. Your work can be posted as a separate thread with "Chiasmus" in the title. Example: "Chiasmus - What do the Greeks know?"

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