Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

Introductory and as a Device in Poetry-Making

Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

Introductory and as a Device in Poetry-Making

Article excerpt

And can it be, that I should gain An interest in the Saviour's blood? --Charles Wesley, 1738

And did those feet in ancient time Walk upon Englands mountains green[?] --William Blake, 1804

And have the bright immensities received our risen Lord?--Howard Chandler Robbins, 1931

The word and is the primary explicit connective in English. Its commonest use is the simplest, to join the elements of compound constructions. But even when the first element of the compound is absent--as when a sentence begins with And--it is felt as implicitly present. Thus the Oxford English Dictionary notes the "introductory" use of and and offers two definitions. The first (number 11 in the OED's sequence of definitions) is: "Continuing the narration: a. from a previous sentence, expressed or understood. [Here are given several illustrative examples, ranging in assigned date from the ninth century to 1861.] b. from the implied assent to a previous question or opinion." The latter, 11b, is illustrated by two quotations, from 1847 and 1853, both of them extracts from conversations in works of fiction, in which the part quoted is a response to another person's speech just preceding. It is clear from the citations given under definition 11 that the word "narration" must be taken broadly, to include the progression of an argument (see the 1449 quotation from Pecock, which could be supplemented with many other examples). Further, in all the instances but one the "introductory" And comes at the beginning of a sentence that follows other text.

What are we to make, then, of an entire stand-alone text that begins with And, as represented by the OED's 1861 citation (actually written much earlier), which opens one of the stories embedded in Edward Bulwer-Lytton's frame narrative The Pilgrims of the Rhine, (1) or by the poems quoted at the beginning of this essay? How does and function in this situation, where there is apparently no prior discourse to which the word may signify connection? Perhaps the OED covers this by saying "a previous sentence ... understood," but that only begs the question. Nor does the newer discipline of pragmatics, which (as will shortly appear) has given considerable attention to turn-initial And in the analysis of conversations, seem interested in discourse-initial And.

The matter needs to be explored further. Such exploration will take us in two directions, linguistic (with the paralinguistic field of pragmatics) and literary, and I hope the two approaches will prove mutually illuminating. My aim is threefold: to offer significant OED antedatings as well as refinements in definition, to point toward an understanding of discourse-initial And from the point of view of pragmatics (albeit in literary--"contrived"--examples rather than in "natural," often tape-recorded speech), and to observe how the device of introductory And contributes to the effect of some well-known and frequently anthologized poems.

A poem is, of course, a special kind of discourse in which a context is often implied; in other words, even though the poem is, strictly speaking, a stand-alone text, its fiction may include some prior event to which it is imagined to be a response. This context might be one of exterior action or speech--examples that spring readily to mind are Robert Browning's dramatic monologues, such as "My Last Duchess," and John Donne's explosive openings, such as "For God's sake hold your tongue" ("The Canonization")--or of the poet's (or speaker's) experience or interior reflection that has given rise to the poetic utterance. In either case, introductory And is sometimes, as in the three examples given, the device employed for directing attention to the poem's imagined context. (2)

Not all poems do stand alone. A poem may be designed as part of a sequence or connected in some other way to a larger unit. Blake's "And did those feet," when first published, was embedded in the prose "Preface" to the poet's Milton and was preceded by the words "Jesus our Lord," providing an immediate reference for "those feet. …

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