Any linguistic analysis of literature is framed by presuppositions regarding the nature and function of language. The discipline of stylistics, which is a “sub-discipline of linguistics that is concerned with the systematic analysis of style in language,”[1] typically presupposes generative grammar theory.[2] The limits of this project prohibit any detailed description of generative grammar theory. In a brief and general sense, generative grammar theory proposes that the essential meaning (semantics) of an utterance lies less in the particular arrangement of words in a clause or phrase and more in the fundamental seed of idea that “generates” the particular utterance into intelligible linguistic code.[3] The salient idea encoded in linguistic form for communication is labeled “deep structure,” and the word order, or syntactic arrangement of words, is called “surface structure.”

In describing why generative grammar theory proved helpful to the discipline of stylistics, K. Wales writes:

“Generally, TG [transformational grammar] was felt to be an appropriate model for analysis, since the notions of deep and surface structure seemed to correspond with the popular dualist approach to style, namely that there are ‘different ways’ of saying the same thing…Differences in word order between sentences were regarded [by generativists] as the result of superficial (and optional), ‘stylistic’ (sic) transformations.”[4]

As a stylistic analysis, this project is analyzes repeated patterns of syntax and word order deviation in HP, and presupposes that the patterns of word order and syntax (surface structures) are stylized for poetic effect. This project also presupposes that word order and syntax provide the technical framing for semantics and semantic parallelism that characterizes HP. Terms are attributed meaning as they are applied in their specific context through the vehicle of word order and syntax. This being the case, a stylized, patterned unfolding of syntax and word order throughout a poem becomes the artistic “architecture” of the poem itself.

[1] L. Jeffires and D. McIntyre, Stylistics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 1.

[2] Generative grammar theory is also know as “transformational grammar” based on the fact that surface structures undergo “transformations” while deep structures may remain unchanged.

[3] The cornerstone works framing generative theory of syntax are Chomsky, N. Aspects of The Theory of Syntax (Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1965) and idem, Syntactic Structures (New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 2002).

[4]   K. Wales, A Dictionary of Stylistics (New York: Longman, 2011), 186.

Matt Ayars

President of Wesley Biblical Seminary


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