• James Pollock

The Elements of Eloquence

"The figures of rhetoric are the beauties of all the poems we have ever read."


A Witty, Indispensable Treatise on Rhetorical Schemes

The rhetorical figures known as schemes (that is, word patterns) are the X-Men of poetics: powerful outcasts that, while largely neglected in handbooks and "craft talks," go on doing the essential work of eloquence, largely under the radar of even experienced readers.


Mark Forsyth's brilliantly witty book goes far beyond the tedious (and contradictory) definitions found in reference books, offering instead a series of short, hilarious essays on thirty-something of the most common and effective schemes in rhetoric (with a few tropes thrown in, along with a smart "Divagation Concerning Versification"), each with dozens of examples from literature and popular culture. He includes fresh takes on the familiar (alliteration, anaphora) and revelatory primers on the seemingly arcane (hendiadys, scesis onomaton). I say "seemingly arcane" because, as Forsyth points out, in fact people use these figures all the time, even though almost nobody knows they're doing it, let alone what these little word patterns are called.


As for me, I assign this book in my Advanced Poetry Writing workshop for upper-level undergraduates, not least because it lets me read it again every year. To poets and readers of poetry everywhere I say: don't just read this book, memorize it.

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