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Antithesis as a Literary Technique With Poetic Examples

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Centfie writes, reads and analyzes poems from a psychological POV. See her book on Amazon: "Piece of Mind: Everyone has an Untold Story."

Antithesis a type of figure of speech in the same category as literary devices of contrast such as the oxymoron, juxtaposition, antiphrasis, and paradox.

"Antithesis" is derived from the Greek term antitheton meaning "opposition."

Antithesis is close to juxtaposition because it involves placing two unlike words, phrases, or statements parallel to each other. Juxtaposition is placing two ideas together for comparing and contrasting purposes, even when the ideas might not be exact opposites.

We can define antithesis as a juxtaposition of opposing words, phrases, or clauses showing contrasting ideas identified by the use of antonyms or parallel phrases with the opposite meanings. Antithesis occurs when the two lines placed side by side show a clear contrast of the situation, statement, or both.

antithesis-as-a-literary-technique-with-poetic-examples

How to Identify Antithesis

Common words that elicit antithesis when paired include antonyms as in winter/summer, beautiful/ugly, war/peace. Unlike the oxymoron, an antithesis can occur even when several words are placed in between the opposite ones.

In the art of writing, you can use antithesis in various ways.

Look at the following sentences. The words in bold in the following example create antithesis.

1. He made one woman, and he made one man

The paired sentences form an antithesis because they are in a parallel structure. "He made one" is the same structure repeated again. Furthermore, The words "woman" and "man" represent opposites.

2. To be, or not to be

The paired opposite statements are antithesis because they show a contrast between two states.

Antithesis is the juxtaposition of opposing words, phrases, or clauses showing contrasting ideas identified by the use of antonyms or parallel phrases with opposite meanings.

How Useful Is Antithesis in Literature?

An antithesis is a useful tool for the author when setting up a conflict. Hence, if the antithesis is created by opposite words or situations, the audience can understand the intended meaning.

Reinforcing the Rhythm

The antithesis is achieved when confined to a similar grammatical structure in two successive phrases. Hence, it heightens a specific meter forming a regular rhythm.

Emphasizing Differences

If a writer needs to put special emphasis on how one situation contrasts with he can use antithesis to emphasize the differences between them.

Foreshadowing

The antithesis amplifies the rhetorical literary techniques of foreshadowing by presenting the central conflict in the text.

Examples of Antithesis in Poetry

Some authors use antithesis extensively, while others may be less pronounced, or lack antithesis completely. The following examples show clear use of antithesis by various poets, both contemporary and classical.

1. "Lessons from the Wildflower" by Chitrangada Sharan

In the 5th stanza of this poem, the use of antithesis is clear and concise.

Be it the scorching heat,/Of the summer/Be it the pouring monsoon/Of the cold winter (lines16-19)

Notice the parallel sentence structure of the poem and the contrasting ideas the entire lines alternatively represent.

It's easy, and yet not so easy (line 24)

The affirmative form of the sentence is followed by a negation, thereby creating antithesis.

2. "Filling up the Pages of Life" by Chitrangada Sharan

The poet creates antithesis by contrasting two birth and death in two metrically parallel sentences.

Since the time of your birth,/Until the time you depart (lines 5-6)

3. "The Sweet-Sour Experiences of Life" by Chitrangada Sharan

This entire poem is a beautiful example of antithesis because the poet employs the techniques in the entire poem.

Here is an excerpt from the poem depicting antithesis:

I value the light, because I have experienced the darkness/I value the joys, because I have experienced the sorrows (lines 1-2)

4. "The Unknown Citizen" by W.H Auden

The poet contrasts two opposite situations in the same line with phrases that show antithesis:

When there was peace, he was for peace; when there was war, he went (line 24)

5. "Fire and Ice" by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,/Some say in ice (lines 1-2)

6. "Caged Bird" by Maya Angelou

In this case, antithesis occurs in alternate stanzas that are parallel to each other in terms of the meaning and the metrical feet. The antithesis is created by the opposing ideas of "a caged bird" with "a free bird."

Stanza 1 begins:

A free bird leaps

Stanza 3 begins:

The caged bird sings

7. "This Is Not a Small Voice" by Sonia Sanchez

The poet describes opposite states by using identical sentence structure in the following excerpts:

This is not a small voice/you hear this is a large/voice... (lines1-3)

This is not a small love/you hear this is a large/love,... (lines 14-16)

8. "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" by Oscar Wilde

Some kill their love when they are young,/And some when they are old (lines 43-44)

9. "Alone" by Edgar Allan Poe

...I have not been/As others were-I have not seen/as others saw- (lines 1-2)

10. "I Do Not Love you Except Because I Love You" by Pablo Neruda

I love you only.../I hate you deeply... (lines 5-6)

Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Which of the following statements defines antithesis?
    • A comparison of two concepts that may either be opposites or not.
    • A contrast between opposite phrases/ideas with the same grammatical structure.
    • A repetition of the same grammatical structure in two or more phrases.

Answer Key

  1. A contrast between opposite phrases/ideas with the same grammatical structure.

Interpreting Your Score

If you got 0 correct answers: Incorrect

If you got 1 correct answer: Correct

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Centfie

Comments

Centfie (author) from Kenya on May 17, 2021:

@ Chitrangada Sharan, welcome and thank you for reading my article and your kind comments. Keep writing those awesome poems. I am a fan.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on May 17, 2021:

Hi Centfie!

I learnt a lot from your article—Antithesis, as a literary technique in poetry writing. It’s interesting to read the examples, which you have cited above.

I am thankful for mentioning the examples, from three of my earlier published poems. I feel honoured—Thank you so much.

Many thanks for sharing these insightful and educative articles, about the techniques of poetry writing.

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