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Anastrophe


 

Anastrophe is a literary technique where the natural order of words is inverted. This is done in order to achieve a particular effect or emphasis. “Anastrophe” is a Greek word which means “to turn back.” The word order in which sentences are constructed in English is generally subject-verb-object. It is correct to say, “I saw an alien.” An inversion of this sentence is “An alien, I saw.”

Poets usually use anastrophe in order to help maintain a rhyme scheme.  It is also sometimes used in prose in order to create a sense of depth or wisdom to the words being written. The most common and popular example of anastrophe is the way that Yoda speaks in the ‘Star Wars’ movie series.  Many of us are familiar with Yoda- the little green Jedi master in Star Wars. In the original films, he trains Luke Skywalker to fight against the Galactic Empire. In the prequel films, he serves as the wise Grand Master of the Jedi Order.

Let’s study the following dialogue:
Obi-Wan Kenobi: Do you believe what Count Dooku said about Sidious controlling the Senate? It doesn’t feel right.
Yoda: Joined the Dark Side, Dooku has. Lies, deceit, creating mistrust are his ways now.

You would have noticed that Yoda talks strangely. You may also feel that Yoda is weird. There is of course a simple reason behind it. Yoda the Jedi master uses inverted sentences or what is known as anastrophe! Let’s look at another example of Yoda’s speech:  ‘Powerful you have become; the dark side I sense in you.’ When we speak, we would normally begin with the subject of the sentence and then follow it immediately with the verb.  The sentence would be: ‘You have become powerful; I sense the dark side in you.’

Shakespeare often uses unusual word orders so that the line will conform to the desired poetic rhythm. Instead of following a sequence of subject first and the verb second, Shakespeare often places the verb before the subject e.g. “Speaks he” rather than “He speaks.”

In his famous Sonnet 18, Shakespeare changes the word order of some sentences to make lines more poetic. An example is the first line of the poem – “Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines.” In syntactically correct order, the line should read: “Sometimes the eye of heaven shines too hot.”

Other examples include: “Glistens the dew upon the morning grass”. With normal word order, this sentence would be: “The dew glistens upon the morning grass”.

“She looked at the sky dark and menacing”, should be written: “She looked at the dark and menacing sky”. “Troubles, everybody’s got” would normally be: “Everybody’s got troubles”.

Star Wars could be a good thing for students who are studying Shakespeare. Understanding the speech patterns of Yoda the Jedi Master may help students get past the biggest obstacle in studying Shakespeare: the syntax.

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literary (adj) related to writing or literature.
inverted (v) – changed to the opposite.
prequel (n) – a film or a book about an earlier stage of the story.
syntactically (adj) – according to grammatical structure.

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