Apostrophe (poetry)

In poetry, an apostrophe is a figure of speech in which the poet addresses an absent person, an abstract idea, or a thing. Apostrophes are found throughout poetry, but they’re less common since the early 20th century. Poets may apostrophize a beloved, the Muse, God, love, time, or any other entity that can’t respond in reality.

The word O is often used to signal such an invocation.

Some examples:

When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs? [Gerard Manley Hopkins]

O holy virgin! clad in purest white,
Unlock heav’n’s golden gates, and issue forth; [William Blake]

O cunning Love! with tears thou keep’st me blind,
Lest eyes well-seeing thy foul faults should find. [William Shakespeare]

3 thoughts on “Apostrophe (poetry)”

  1. Could the word O be used in an imperative sentence, without specifically naming the subject? e.g. The song “Ancient Words” by Michael W. Smith, contains the following lines:

    Ancient words, ever true,
    Changing me and changing you.
    We have come with open hearts.
    O let the ancient words impart.

    Here, it’s unclear to whom the word “O” is referring. It could refer to God, asking Him to cause His words to do their work on our hearts, or it could refer to the listener – imploring him or her to allow God’s Word to do so.


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