Examples of Hyperbaton in Literature

Definition of Hyperbaton

Hyperbaton is the intentional disruption of normal word order in a sentence. It involves inversion, reversal and discontinuity of syntax. As a literary technique, it alters the customary position of the words and phrases to create a distinct rhythm, emphasize certain words and convey a particular tone.

Hyperbaton is also used to separate the words that are paired together and shuffle the typical sequence of nouns, verbs, adjective and adverbs. This distortion from conventional word arrangement adds interest, liveliness and poignancy to expressions.

Features of Hyperbaton

  • Inverting the positioning of words and phrases
  • Separating words that are usually together
  • Placing words far from the words they are related to
  • Changing the positioning of adverbs, adjectives, nouns, and verbs

This distortion of normal syntax creates an unfamiliar flow and rhythm when reading. It adds emphasis, drama, and liveliness to expressions.

Examples of Hyperbaton in literature


“Paradise Lost” by John Milton

“Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
Brought death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat.”

Here, the inversion “of that forbidden tree” separates it from the more logical syntactical pairing with “the fruit”. This displacement creates emphasize on the significance of the forbidden tree, which brought sin into the world. The splitting up of “one greater Man” disrupts the flow and highlights the future redemptive role of Jesus Christ. The hyperbaton places focus on “one greater Man” as the one who will restore humanity. The atypical word ordering adds gravitas and a sweeping grandeur, fitting for the biblical subject matter. The discontinuity of phrases like “and all our woe” inserts drama and energy into the verse. Hyperbaton allows Milton to shape the solemn yet impassioned tone befitting an epic poem about humanity’s downfall and salvation.


“The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe

“Once upon a midnight dreary,
while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping,
rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered,” tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”

The opening stanza of the poem uses hyperbaton. It establishes the melancholy and haunting mood. In the first line, the inversion of “while I pondered” disrupts the standard subject, verb and object syntax. This hyperbaton reinforces the pensive state of mind of the speaker and deviates from a conventional sentence structure. Moreover, the phrase “suddenly there came a tapping” separates the subject “a tapping” from the verb “came”. The delay in revealing the source of the sound builds suspense and tension.

Furthermore, the repetition of “rapping at my chamber door” utilizes hyperbaton and splits “rapping” from the prepositional phrase. This serves to emphasize the persistent and ominous knocking that disturbs the speaker. The deliberate rearrangement of clauses out of their expected sequence creates a lyrical and dreamy rhythm. It heightens the brooding atmosphere of the poem. The hyperbaton forms part of the haunting quality and makes the poem so evocative.


“The Lady of Shalott” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

“Out flew the web and floated wide-
The mirror cracked from side to side;
‘The curse is come upon me,’
cried The Lady of Shalott.”

In the stanza the hyperbaton is used to build tension and emphasize important imagery. The line “The mirror cracked from side to side” contains an inversion of the typical word order. The verb “cracked” is delayed by placing the prepositional phrase “from side to side” first. This hyperbaton creates a suspenseful pause before the revelation of the mirror cracking. The separation of the words “cried” and “The Lady of Shalott” interrupts the flow of the phrase. This discontinuity places focus on the Lady of Shalott as the one crying out.

The hyperbaton also mimics the fracturing of the mirror as syntax itself is fractured through unusual word placement. The atypical sentence structure reflects the psychic break and doom befalling the tragic character. The author relies on hyperbaton to underscore the thematic rupture, both in the mirror and in the mind of the Lady of Shalott. The hypnotic rhythm produced by rearranged syntax and delayed phrases adds to the lyrical and intense atmosphere.


“Sonnet 116” by William Shakespeare

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds,”

In this excerpt, the hyperbaton is used to emphasize the steadfast and unchanging nature of true love. The opening line contains the inversion “let me not”. This hyperbaton interrupts the standard word order to boldly declare that the speaker will not allow anything to come between true love. The second line utilizes hyperbaton in the phrase “which alters”. The displacement of the verb before the subject “love” puts focus on love as the thing that does not alter. The author deviates from conventional word arrangement and creates emphasis on the stability of love between faithful minds. The hyperbaton in both lines disrupt the flow of the syntax paralleling how true love disrupts superficial affections.


“Sea Fever” by John Masefield

“I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.”

The writer uses hyperbaton to convey the speaker’s longing for the sea through disrupted syntax. The first line contains the inversion “down to the seas again” and places the prepositional phrase before the verb “must go”. This hyperbaton immediately establishes the poem’s nautical themes while deviating from expected word order.

The third line, the noun “dawn” is delayed through the inversion of “and a grey dawn breaking”. This postpones the arrival of the dawn and builds excited anticipation through the abnormal sentence structure. The separation of clauses like “the wind’s song” and “the white sail’s shaking” through hyperbaton creates a rhythmic and almost song-like cadence evocative of the ocean’s movements.


“Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats

“My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:”

Keats uses hyperbaton to convey the speaker’s numb and intoxicated state through disrupted syntax. The inversion of “as though of hemlock I had drunk” is a prominent example. The displacement of the phrase “of hemlock” before “I had drunk” creates emphasis on the poison, evokes an intoxicated and drugged sensation.

The author also splits apart verb phrases like “aches and a drowsy numbness pains” as well as “One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk.” This fragmentation suggests a fragmented consciousness and perception. The poet relies on hyperbaton to portray the speaker’s disoriented and numb emotional state. He rearranges clauses from their logical order and sympathetically conveys the lethargic melancholy that prompts the speaker’s nightingale fantasy of escape.

Function of Hyperbaton

Hyperbaton serves several functions:

  • Draws attention to important words and ideas by placing them out of order
  • Creates poetic or dramatic rhythm when reading
  • Conveys urgency, passion, or excitement
  • Highlights relationships between separated words
  • Allows flexibility of word placement for meter or rhyme

Related Literary Devices

Here are two literary devices related to hyperbaton:

1- Anastrophe

Anastrophe involves changing the normal word order in a phrase or sentence by placing a word such as an adjective after the noun it modifies rather than before it. For example, “The weather cold was miserable” uses anastrophe by placing “cold” after “weather” instead of before. Like hyperbaton, anastrophe alters conventional syntax for literary effect.

2- Parenthesis

Parenthesis refers to a word, phrase, or clause inserted as an aside or afterthought into a sentence. The parenthetical material is offset with punctuation like dashes, commas, or parentheses. For example, “The recipe, which I hadn’t tried before, turned out surprisingly well.” The phrase “which I hadn’t tried before” is parenthetical. Parenthesis and hyperbaton both interrupt the flow of a sentence, but hyperbaton does so by rearranging syntax rather than inserting asides.

Examples of Hyperbaton in Literature
Examples of Hyperbaton in Literature

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *