Bloomfield, Morton W., ed. Allegory, Myth and Symbol. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981. Greenblatt, Stephen J., ed. Allegory and Representation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981. Miner, Earl, ed. Selected Poetry and Prose of John Dryden. New York: The Modern Library, 1969.
alliteration Alliteration may be defined as repetition of sound in two or more words. It may appear for effect in any type of writing and is a favorite device of poets in their concentrated medium. The repetition of initial consonants in words is the most common form of alliteration. Examples may be found in a line from William Alexander's The Tragedy of Darius, "time, through Jove's judgment just," a heavy-handed use intended to call order to the sense, more than the sound, of the three j terms, positioned in contrived order. John Donne, on the other hand, seldom adopts alliteration except for sound's sense, as in his famous "fixt foot" reference to a compass in "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning," which presents an abrupt contrast to the softer sounds that surround it. Robert Her-rick's use with the letter f is more gentle in his "Candlemas Eve" as he describes flowers used "To Honour Whitsuntide" as "Both of a fresh and fragrant kin." Alexander Pope applied alliteration to satire for a humorous effect, as in the famous line from The Rape of the Lock, "But when to mischief Mortals bend their Mind." In a less common usage labeled "hidden alliteration," the sound repetition is internal and may be combined with the initial sound repetition as well. In James Shirley's "A Dirge," he makes the point, using both types of alliteration, that in battle, neither combatant may win, by labeling one such combatant a victor-victim. William Habington's "Nox Nocti Indicat Scien-tiam" contains the phrase Almighty's mysteries, an example of internal alliteration with the t sound. It also represents consonance, in which similar consonants are repeated with different vowels, the m and t in each word separated by an i and y consecutively. Another repetition, termed assonance, displays the reverse approach, with similar vowels and different consonants, as in the same poem's phrases "shoots forth" and "speaking the Creator's."
"ALTAR, THE" George Herbert (1633) One of George Herbert's famous pattern or shape poems, "The Altar" appeared as part of his collection titled The Temple. If one simply performs an uninformed close reading of the poem, conforming to the formalist critical school of thought, its sentiment may be seen as uncomplicated and straightforward, the speaker offering a prayer to God to sanctify his heart. Herbert uses the altar as an extended metaphor for the human heart, which, in the case of this speaker, is broken. The cement holding the stones of the altar together consists of tears, and the speaker notes that only the Lord's power can cut the stone that is his heart. The pieces of his heart join to form the altar, meeting "in this frame" in order that he may praise the Lord's name. The penultimate line, "O, let thy blessed Sacrifice be mine," refers to the sacrifice made by God when he gave his son to save humans. The speaker desires to make such a sacrifice himself, asking that God "sanctify" his heart.
However, if one chooses instead to use the New Historical critical approach to understanding the poem, bringing to its reading knowledge of Herbert's era, its effect may differ. As Cristina Malcolmson explains, the Arminians, a group who reacted against Calvinistic aspects of the English church to assert a belief in free, not earned, grace, in 1617 removed the wooden communion table that represented Christ's last supper from its traditional east-west-facing location in the Durham Cathedral choir. They instead set it "north-south altar-wise," moving it to the chapel's east end. By 1620 the wooden communion table was gone, replaced by an altar of stone. Herbert's poem suggests that the Arminians' act of moving the altar succeeded in separating the human from that altar. Their focus on ceremony and obedience differed from the traditional focus on the need for grace, a requirement for personal reform, represented by the communion table. Herbert, as one who held Calvinist beliefs, also seemed to help unite two dissenting groups by using a symbol important to Arminians but emphasizing the theme of grace, which would be appreciated by Puritans. Herbert emphasizes that "grace rather than merit breaks the resistance within and provides the willingness to obey." Only God's grace can affect the heart in this way, and Herbert again suggests a contrast between the work of man, the altar, and that of God.
The obvious skill required to form lines to shape an altar pattern remains admirable, as does the text, which supports the visual representation. The icon shape requires that the rhyming couplets vary in line length. Herbert begins with iambic pentameter for his first two lines, with the next two losing one metric foot each in order to comply with the demands of the shape. The column is constructed of eight three- or four-word lines with two beats each. The pedestal repeats the construction of the first four lines, inverting line order with the final two lines containing five feet. The suggestion of construction and stones accumulating to shape an altar is reflected in Herbert's physical construction of the image.
A broken Altar, Lord thy servant rears, Made of a heart, and cemented with teares: Whose parts are as thy hand did frame; No workmans tool hath touch'd the same A HEART alone Is such a stone, As nothing but Thy pow'r doth cut. Wherefore each part of my hard heart Meets in this frame, To praise thy Name: That if I chance to hold my peace, These stones to praise thee may not cease. O let thy blessed Sacrifice be mine, And sanctifie this Altar to be thine
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