Inversion, also known as anastrophe, is a literary technique in which the normal order of words is reversed in order to achieve a particular effect of emphasis or meter.
Inversion is achieved by doing the following:
- Placing an adjective after the noun it qualifies e.g. the soldier strong
- Placing a verb before its subject e.g. shouts the policeman
- Placing a noun before its preposition e.g. worlds between
In the English language, there are inversions that are part of its grammar structure and are quite common in their use. For instance, inversion always occurs in interrogative statements where verbs or auxiliaries or helping verbs are placed before their subjects. Similarly, inversion happens in typical exclamatory sentences where objects are placed before their verbs and subjects and preceded by a wh- word, such as the following examples of inversion:
- What a beautiful picture it is!
- Where in the world were you!
- How wonderful the weather is today!
Inversion Examples in Literature
Apart from the above mentioned common inversions, some unusual inversions are employed in literature by writers in order to achieve some special artistic effects.
It was a common practice in the days of William Shakespeare to use inversions. Look at an example of inversion from “Romeo and Juliet”, Act 1, Scene 5:
“Her mother is the lady of the house,
And a good lady, and wise and virtuous.
I nursed her daughter that you talked withal.
I tell you, he that can lay hold of her,
Shall have the chinks.”
Here is another example of inversion from Shakespeare’s Play “Macbeth”:
MACBETH: “If’t be so, For Banquo’s issue have I fil’d my mind,
For them the gracious Duncan have I murther’d,
Put rancors in the vessel of my peace
Only for them, and mine eternal jewel
Given to the common enemy of man,
To make them kings -the seed of Banquo kings!
Rather than so, come, Fate, into the list,
And champion me to the utterance!”
The inversions in the above lines serve to highlight the conflict in Macbeth’s mind after he had killed Duncan. The conflict was leading him to insanity gradually.
“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.”
The inversions enhance the artistic effect of the poem.
Read the following lines from William Wordsworth’s poem “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”:
“To me alone there came a thought of grief:
A timely utterance gave that thought relief,
And I again am strong:
The cataracts blow their trumpets from the steep;”
Shelly describes his favorite literary and political personality Milton in the following lines:
“Blind, old, and lonely, when his country’s pride,
The priest, the slave, and the liberticide,
Trampled and mocked with many a loathed rite . . .”
The inverted syntax in the above lines aids the poet to lay an emphasis and highlight the distinctive qualities of John Milton even more.
Similarly in the poem “Love in Jeopardy” by Humbert Wolfe, there is an inversion of an unusual kind. He wrote:
“Here by the rose-tree
they planted once
of Love in Jeopardy
an Italian bronze.”
The poet, in the above lines, attempts to produce an ancient effect in his poem, as he is describing an old statue in the poem.
Function of Inversion
Like all literary devices, the main function of inversion in prose or poetry is to help the writers achieve stylistic effects like laying an emphasis on a particular point or changing the focus of the readers from a particular point. In poetry, inversions are regularly used to create rhythm, meter or rhyming scheme in the lines.