Chiasmus | Definition, Meaning, Characteristics, Examples in Literature

Chiasmus | Definition, Meaning, Characteristics, Examples in Literature

Chiasmus

Chiasmus Definition

Chiasmus is a figure of speech in which generally a contrast between ideas is expressed through the inversion of the order of words or phrases when they are repeated or subsequently referred to in a sentence.

In this figure, an idea or fact is emphatically expressed by inverting the order of words or phrases in the same sentence. Thus, the idea that beauty and truth are one and the same thing has been emphasized by the poet in his memorable sentence, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”

The Chiasmus consists in an inversion of the order of words or phrases, when repeated or subsequently referred to in the same sentence. The purpose of this figure, as already noted, is to make a statement more emphatic and impressive.

Such inversion is made for the sake of emphasis and poetic effect.

What is Chiasmus?

The Chiasmus consists in an inversion of the order of words or phrases, when repeated or subsequently referred to in the same sentence.

To make a statement more impressive and effective sometimes all the words (or the main words) in the first part of a sentence are reversed in the second part for the sake of contrasting ideas. Thus, in the example ‘Live to learn and learn to live the words of the first part i.e., “Live to learn”) are reversed in the second part (i.e. ‘learn to live’) for the sake of drawing our attention to the contrast that lies between the first idea (expressed in the first part of the sentence) and the last (expressed in its second part).

Thus, the idea that beauty and truth are one and the same thing has been emphasized by the poet in his memorable sentence, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”

Characteristics of Chiasmus

The chief characteristics of Chiasmus are given below:

(1) One idea is introduced in the first part of a sentence.

(2) Another idea is introduced in the second part by reversing the order of the first part.

(3) The order becomes inverse, when repeated or subsequently referred to in the sentence.

(4) The purpose is to make a statement impressive and emphatic.

Which Phrase Defines “Chiasmus” Best?

Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” 

-John Keats

This is a case of Chiasmus.

In the chiasmus, there is an inversion in the order of words or phrases, when repeated or subsequently referred to in the same sentence.

The order of words, ‘Beauty is truth’ becomes inverse here, when repeated in the same sentence and turns into ‘truth beauty’.

Also Read:

Chiasmus Examples with Illustration

Fair is foul and foul is fair.”

(Shakespeare)

This is a chiasmus.

In this figure the order of phrases is reversed when repeated in a sentence to show a contrast between ideas.

Here the words of the first part (“Fair is foul”) are reversed in the second part (“foul is fair’) to point out the contrast lying between the idea expressed in the first part and that expressed in the second part of the same sentence.

“May you stand long and long stand the terror of tyrants.”

–Burke

“So, these were wed, and merrily rung the bells,

Merrily rang the bells, and these were wed.”  

–Tennyson

In both these cases, the order of words becomes inverse, when repeated. Thus, in the first case, the order of words ‘stand long’ is changed into ‘long stand’. The order of words, in the second case, changes from ‘these were …… bells’ to ‘Merrily rang….. wed’.

Chiasmus Vs Hyperbaton

Although inversion occurs in both, there is no repetition of words in Hyperbaton while it is so in Chiasmus. Again there is an inversion of ideas (besides words) in Chiasmus which is absent in Hyperbaton.

Examples of Chiasmus in Literature

  1. Beauty is truth, truth beauty. (Keats)
  2. He was a rake among scholars and a scholar among rakes. (Macaulay)
  3. They fall successive, and successive rise. (Pope)
  4. For sand and dune, and dime and sand

Are all that I go by.

  1. For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky

Lay like a load on my weary eye. (Coleridge)

  1. Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven. -Milton
[The order of words ‘Heaven of Hell’ is changed into ‘Hell of Heaven’. when repeated subsequently in the same sentence.]
  1. And singing still dost soar and soaring ever singest. -Shelley

The order of words ‘singing ….Soar is turned into ‘Soaring…… Singest’ when repeated in the same sentence]

  1. Reasoned high

Of Providence, Fore-knowledge, Will and Fate,

Fixed fate, free will, fore-knowledge absolute. (Milton)

  1. If e’er to bless thy sons

My voice or hands deny,

These hands let useful skill forsake

This voice in silence die. (Dwight)

  1. Can make a leaven of Hell, a Hell of leaven. (Milton)
  2. We live to learn and learn to live.

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