The Poetic Power of Parallelism

Published August 28, 2012 by Elsa Pla

The exercise for this past week was to do a sentence inventory for either a paragraph by a favorite author or your own paragraph. I did both.

First, a paragraph by my favorite author: Ray Bradbury.

From Dandelion Wine:

“A whole summer ahead to cross off the calendar, day by day. Like the goddess Siva in the travel books, he saw his hands jump everywhere, pluck sour apples, peaches, and midnight plums. He would be clothed in trees and bushes and rivers. He would freeze, gladly, in the hoarfrosted icehouse door. He would bake, happily, with ten thousand chickens, in Grandma’s kitchen.”

First Words ———–Main Verb(s)———# of Words

A whole summer ———to cross off—————12

Like the goddess———saw, jump, pluck ——– 21

He————————-would be clothed———10

He————————-would freeze————– 9

He————————-would bake————— 11

I chose this paragraph because it showcases the rhythmic power of parallel construction (the repetition of the structure of the last three sentences and the use of three items in a series). Repetition causes the writing to “sing.”  Notice how even the number of words of the last three sentences is similar. All this repetition works because it’s used as a special poetic effect. I love it. (There are more cool things happening in this paragraph, of course.)

Here’s my paragraph:

Ioúna awoke before the break of dawn.  He lingered in his hamaca, listening to the last sweet notes of the little brown frogs and to his mother breathing to the rhythm of the ocean waves.  Stirred by the sea breeze, the sun-dried straw on the roof of their bohío swished and whispered.  He rubbed his sleepy eyes with the palms of his hands and –  careful not to wake his mother –  rolled out of his swinging bed, picked up the small spear he used for fishing, and tiptoed toward the beach.

First Words ———–Main Verb(s)———# of Words

Ioúna————————awoke———————– 6

He—————————lingered——————— 28

Stirred by the sea breeze—swished, whispered——– 18

He—————————rubbed, picked, tiptoed—– 38

The paragraph has variety and flow, but after analyzing Mr. Bradbury’s use of parallel construction, I think I’ll change the end of the last sentence to “rolled out of his swinging bed, picked up his fishing spear, and tiptoed toward the beach.” By repeating the pattern of “his swinging bed” in “his fishing spear,” the sentence sounds more musical. It also shortens the last sentence a bit, which helps to balance the paragraph.

I’m going to stick to this exercise for a couple more weeks to see what else I notice about the way my favorite writers construct their sentences. I’m going to add a fourth column and title it “Special Effects.”

I’ll post again next Monday.

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