The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018


Apostrophe: A rhetorical figure in which the speaker directly and often emotionally addresses a person who is dead or absent, an imaginary or nonhuman entity, or a place or concept (usually an abstract idea or ideal). The object of the apostrophe, if not human, is often personified.

The invocation is a type of apostrophe involving an explicit request for aid in writing made to a supernatural entity.

EXAMPLES: The biblical lines “O death, I will be thy plagues; / O grave, I will be thy destruction” (Hosea 13:14). George Gordon, Lord Byron, apostrophizes the sea in the following line, taken from the fourth canto of his long poem, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1818): “Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean, roll!”

Sixteenth-century French poet Louise Labé addressed her absent lover in Les délices et les épreuves du corps (The Delights and Trials of the Body), calling on him to “Baise m’encor, rebaise-moi et baise, / … Je t’en rendrai quatre plus chauds que braise” (“Kiss me again, kiss me once more and kiss / … I will give you four that are hotter than embers”).

Thomas Hardy addressed “Love” in his cynical poem “I Said to Love” (1901):

I said to him,

“We now know more of thee than then;

We were but weak in judgment when,

With hearts abrim,

We clamoured thee that thou woulds’t please

Inflict on us thy agonies,”

I said to him.