Parallelism

Linguistic deviation as we have studied it (i.e. the waiving of rules or conventions of language) is not the only mechanism of linguistic foregrounding. The effect of obtrusion, of some part of the message being thrust into the foreground of attention, may be attained by other means. A pun, for instance, is a type of foregrounding:

When I am dead, I hope it may be said: 'His sins were scarlet, but his books were read'.

[Hilaire Belloc, On his Books]

This epigram contains no violation of linguistic rules, but we are conscious, at its conclusion, of two simultaneous interpretations 'read' and 'red'. Our attention, that is to say, is focused upon a phonological equivalence which would normally be unobserved.

Now I want to concentrate on a type of foregrounding which is in a sense the opposite of deviation, for it consists in the introduction of extra regularities, not irregularities, into the language. This is parallelism in the widest sense of that word.10

4.3.1 Parallelism as Foregrounded Regularity

To explain what I mean by 'extra regularities', I shall take as an example the alliterative pattern of repeated/s in Coleridge's line 'The furrow followed free' [ The Ancient Mariner],

To the extent that any use of language consists in obeying rules, regularity or 'ruledness' is a property of language in general, both inside and outside poetry. One of the ways in which language shows itself to be reducible to rule is in the possibility of segmenting a text into structurally equivalent units: for example, syllables (in phonology) and clauses (in grammar). Thus a text can be analysed as a pattern, on different layers, of repeated similar structures:

A. 9a fA-rou fo-loud fri: phonemic transcription

B. cv cv-cv cv-cvc ccv syllable structure /X | / rhythmic structure f X |f alliterative pattern

Line A of the diagram gives a phonemic transcription of Coleridge's line: it records the actual units of sound in the order in which they are articu

lated. These sounds, as everyone knows, are not represented one-for-one by the letters of a written text; for example, the two Is offollowed stand for only a single sound. (The combination /ou/ counts as a single sound.)

Line B shows the same sequence of sounds (phonemes), but this time they are identified simply as consonants (c) or vowels (v). When the sounds arc classified in this way, a pattern of like structures emerges. This patterning may be explained by segmenting the sequence into syllables, and specifying the limited range of structures a syllable in English may have as follows:

In this formula, parentheses indicate elements which may or may not be present. Rendered verbally, it says that an English syllable consists of a vowel or diphthong preceded by o, 1, 2, or 3 consonants and followed by o, 1, 2, 3, or 4 consonants. (An alternative, and more convenient way of representing this is C°~3 V C°~4.) A maximum initial consonant cluster is found in strong /str-/, and a maximum final cluster is found in sixths /-ksQs/. Hyphens in this line, as in the one above, indicate boundaries between one syllable and the next, if they are within the same unit of rhythm (see below).11

Line C symbolizes a second layer of phonological patterning in the line, showing how it breaks down into a sequence of stressed syllables (/) and unstressed syllables (x). Again underlying the pattern there is a general principle of organization comparable to that of syllable structure: each rhythm-unit, or "measure', as we may call it, contains one and only one stressed syllable, and optionally a number of unstressed syllables, up to a maximum of about four. The boundaries between the measures are marked by vertical bars, analogous to bar-lines in music rather than to foot-boundaries in traditional scansion. The purpose of analysing rhythm in this way will be clearer in §7.1, when we come to discussing its place in versification; for the moment, we shall take it that every measure begins with a stressed syllable. (It happens in this example that bar-lines coincide with word boundaries.)

We see from the above analysis how the phonological patterning of the English language can be described by means of a hierarchy of units. The smallest units, phonemes, are the individual vowels and consonants (/f/, /g/, Iu/, etc.) of which larger units, syllables are composed. Syllables themselves, classified as stressed or unstressed, are the elements of still larger units, the units of rhythm here called measures. A fourth unit of even greater extent, a unit of intonation, may also be distinguished, but is of only limited interest in the study of poetry. A similar hierarchy of units, sentence, clause, phrase, word-, ctc., may also be set up to describe grammatical patterns.12

The alliterative structure written out in line D is a pattern superimposed, so to speak, on the patterning already inherent in the language. It consists in the recurrence of a particular phoneme, /f/, at the beginning of every stressed syllable in the line. Another extra regularity is the metrical pattern of alternating stressed and unstressed syllables: di-dum-di-dum-di-dum. There is no rule in the language stating that this must be the case, any more than it is a rule of English that all stressed syllables must start with /f/.

Metre and alliteration are only two of many examples of the type of linguistic foregrounding which consists in making a text more organized than it has to be by virtue of the rules of the language. A further example, this time a syntactic one, is seen in the second line of this couplet:

111 fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, Where wealth accumulates and men decay.

[Goldsmith, The Deserted Village]

The relevant units in this case are not measures or syllables, but clauses. The italicized parts of the line have identical syntactic structures: each consists of a single-word subject followed by a single-word predicate. Where the language allows for a choice from a variety of structures (Subject+ Verbal, Subject + Verbal+ Object, Subject + Verbal + Indirect Object + Object, etc.), the poet insists on an exact repetition. The term 'parallelism' is above all associated with this sort of syntactic repetition.

Parallelism in its broad sense is precisely the opposite, as I have said, of the kind of foregrounding found in 'a grief ago', as discussed in §2.4. In the latter case, where a certain range of selections is available in the language, the poet makes a selection beyond this range. With parallelism, where the language allows him a choice, he consistently limits himself to the same option.

4.3.2 How Much Regularity?

Foregrounding is rarely an all-or-nothing matter. Just as there are degrees of foregrounded irregularity (see §2.4), so there are degrees of foregrounded regularity. There is a trivial parallelism in a sentence like' He found his key and opened the front door', which contains two consecutive Verbal+ Object constructions. But this construction is in any case so frequent in English that we tend not to notice the pattern, and would scarcely consider it contrived for artistic effect. In contrast, the degree of patterning is quite marked in the saying 'No news is good news', for the repetition of the same syntactic pattern Modifier+ Noun is here accompanied by the same lexical choice oCnews. An even stronger foregrounding of regularity occurs in Othello's 'I kissed thee ere I killed thee', where the two clauses have (1) identical structures (Subject-F Verbal + Object), (2) the exact verbal correspondences of land thee, (3) corresponding past tense suffixes (-ed), and (4) a phonological congruence between kissed and killed. We may notice also that the parallelism of'wealth accumulates' and 'men decay' in Goldsmith's line resides not just in the identity of clause structures (Subject+ Verbal) but in the fact that each element of the clause consists of only one word. If we altered each clause so that this second condition no longer applied (e.g. 'wealth has accumulated' and 'good men decay') the pattern would be considerably weaker because there would no longer be such a close grammatical correspondence. These examples give some idea of what factors enter into the assessment of how strong a parallelism is: whether it extends to both lexical and grammatical choices; whether it operates simultaneously on different layers of structure; whether it involves patterning on both phonological and formal levels.

4.3.3 Patterns of Identity and Contrast

The importance of parallelism as a feature of poetic language almost rivals that of deviation. Gerard Manley Hopkins went so far as to claim that the artifice of poetry 'reduces itself to the principle of parallelism'.13 It is certainly the principle underlying all versification. We would therefore like to inquire carefully into its nature and function, as we inquired into those of linguistic deviation.

It is first of all important to note a difference between parallelism and mechanical repetition. As Roman Jakobson has said,14 'any form of parallelism is an apportionment of invariants and variables'. In other words, in any parallelistic pattern there must be an element of identity and an element of contrast. The element of identity requires little comment: it is clear that any superimposed pattern of the kinds illustrated in §4.3.1 above sets up a relation of equivalence between two or more neighbouring pieces of a text, as indicated here by the horizontal brackets:

Where wealth accumulates and men decay Subject + Verbal Subject + Verbal

What is probably less obvious is that this identity docs not extend to absolute duplication. The exact repetition of a sentence, as in the chanting of crowds ('We want Alf! We want Alf!' . . . etc.) is not counted as parallelism, because parallelism requires some variable feature of the pattern -some contrasting elements which are 'parallel' with respect to their position in the pattern.

Having made this distinction, we may further observe that parallelism is typical of many other aspects of human culture apart from literature. The eighteenth-century German writer Johann Gottfried von Herder defended the characteristic parallelism (in meaning as well as form) of the Hebrew Psalms against the charge of monotony and redundancy with the words: 'Haben Sie noch nie eincn Tanz gesehen?' ('Have you never seen a dance?').15 Similarly in music:

The opening bars of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony forcefully illustrate the patterning of constants and variables which is basic to almost all aspects of musical form.16 In this case it is the rhythmic figure iJJ]J with a fall on the last note which is the invariant part of the theme; the actual tonal values of the notes make up the variable element.

Proverbs, slogans, nursery rhymes, and many other' sub-literary' uses of language also abound in parallelism. Songs and ballads are extremely paral-lelistic in design, and this is amply reflected in the stanza from The Ancient Mariner (an imitation of ballad style) from which our example of alliteration was taken:

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew, The furrow followed free; We were the first that ever burst Into that silent sea.

It would take a page to list the many interlocking foregrounded patterns -metre, end-rhyme, internal rhyme, alliteration, and syntactic parallelism -in this short passage.

4.3.4 The Interpretation of Parallelism

It is impossible to summarize the function of parallelism in a way which will cover all the diverse examples of its occurrence, inside and outside poetry. Linguistic parallelism is very often connected with rhetorical emphasis and memorability. In nursery rhymes and ballads, it affords an artless kind of pleasure in itself, and probably has and needs no further justification. We tend to dismiss this kind of pleasure as of no account in the appreciation of poetry, but I think it would be wrong to dismiss completely the feature of the language of literature which links it most closely to the language of music - the other major art-form which exists on the dimension of time.

Nevertheless, people generally feel that if a parallelism occurs in a poem, some deeper motive or justification for it should be sought. The feeling is all the stronger because most prose writers are inclined to go out of their way to avoid gratuitous effects of this kind: alliteration, rhyme, etc., arc felt to be a positive distraction and hindrance to communication unless they are artistically justified. The parallelisms of versification belong to a class of extra regularities which, like routine licences, are not foregrounded in poetry. But wc may assume that in general, foregrounded regularities like foregrounded irregularities, require an interpretation.

The assignment of significance to a parallelism rests upon a simple principle of equivalence. Every parallelism sets up a relationship of equivalence between two or more elements: the elements which are singled out by the pattern as being parallel. Interpreting the parallelism involves appreciating some external connection between these elements.17 The connection is, broadly speaking, a connection either of similarity or of contrast. In Goldsmith's line 'Where wealth accumulates and men decay' it is obviously one of ironic contrast. Other examples of a contrastive connection are:

He raised a mortal to the skies;

She drew an angel down.

[Dryden, Alexander's Feast]

To err is human, to forgive, divine.

[Pope, An Essay on Criticism]

It is to cases like these, hi which formal parallelism is combined with an implication of contrast, that the term antithesis is most readily applied.

If, on the other hand, Goldsmith's line had been parodied' Where wealth diminishes and men decay', the connection would have been understood as one of similarity: the two states of affairs go together, in fact the one seems to follow from the other. A third possibility is shown in a further parody: 'Where wealth accumulates and men obey.' This is puzzling because on the face of it there is no connection between the two verbs which the pattern sets in opposition to one another; yet we find ourselves trying to grope towards an interpretation, by imagining a situation in which the one might be taken as complementary or in contrast to the other. In interpreting parallelism, as in interpreting deviation, human nature abhors a vacuum of sense.

Another expectation raised by syntactic parallelism is that if there are more than two phases to the pattern, it moves towards a climax. This expectation is fulfilled in the following passage from The Merchant of Venice [III.i]

If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?

where the portentousness and emotive force of revenge, coming after bleed, laugh, and die, is underlined by a slight verbal variation in the pattern; the replacement of do by shall. The passage would have been not just less effective but downright unsatisfactory if (disregarding the position of and) the lines had been put in the opposite order.

A slightly more complicated case is that of this celebrated quotation from Robert Burns's To a Mouse:

The best laid schemes o' mice an' men

Gang aft a-gley.

The relation of equivalence here is between mice and men, which correspond not only syntactically, but phonologically, in that they are both monosyllables beginning with /m/. The phonological foregrounding, or 'chiming', of two words in this way is quite a common poetic effect. The reinforcing connection between mice and men is twofold. We firstly appreciate the referential contrast between man, the supreme head of animal creation, and the mouse, one of the tiniest, timidest, most inconsequential of creatures. But secondly, helped by the conjunction and which links the two words, we appreciate a similarity between man and mouse, who in the sentiment of this passage are levelled to the same status of vulnerability to fate. What the parallelistic bond between the two seems to say is that creatures superficially different are basically the same.

The interpretation of parallelism is like the interpretation of deviation in being divisible into an immediate interpretation and a wider interpretation, which takes into account its relation to other foregrounding, and ultimately to the whole work in which it appears. For an example of wider reinforcement, we return to Othello's words 'I kissed thee ere I killed thee', in which the parallelism strongly urges a connection between kissed and killed. This is similar to the ' mice and men' example in that it combines contrast with similarity. Kissing and killing have opposed connotations, the former being associated with love, and the latter with hatred and aggression. On the other hand, the sentence as a whole suggests that they are similar: that kissing and killing are compatible actions. On a wider scale, therefore, this parallelism summarizes with great concentration the paradox of Othello's jealousy, and the irony of his final tragedy.

Examples for discussion

1. What instances of linguistic foregrounding, both of regularity (parallelism) and of irregularity (deviation) can be identified in the following. How are the foregrounded features interpreted, and how do their individual interpretations fit into the total interpretation of each passage or poem? Discuss, with reference to these examples, the meaning of'consistency of foregrounding' in poetry.

[a] Justice

I cannot skill of these Thy ways; Lord, Thou didst make me, yet thou woundest me; Lord, Thou dost wound me, yet Thou dost relieve me; Lord, Thou relievest, yet I die by Thee; Lord, Thou dost kill me, yet Thou dost reprieve me.

But when I mark my life and praise, Thy justice me most fitly pays; For I do praise Thee, yet I praise Thee not; My prayers mean Thee, yet my prayers stray; I would do well, yet sin the hand hath got; My soul doth love Thee, yet it loves delay. I cannot skill of these my ways.

[George Herbert]

0 0

Responses

  • TAHVO
    How does foregrounding and deviation interconnection?
    2 years ago
  • faramond
    When am dead, i hope it may be said; the furrow follow free?
    2 years ago
  • robinia
    What is foregrounded regularity?
    1 year ago
  • Atso
    What is the difference between deviation and parallelism with examples in poetry?
    7 months ago

Post a comment