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The use of words or constructions that have passed out of the language before the time of writing; or a particular example of such an obsolete word or expression. A common feature of much English poetry from Spenser to Hardy, it rarely appears in prose or in modern verse. Archaism may help to summon up a nostalgic flavour of the past, as in Spenser's use of Chaucerian expressions and in Coleridge's ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, which imitates old ballads:‘There was a ship,’ quoth he.‘Hold off ! unhand me, greybeard loon!’Eftsoons his hand dropped he.Or it may help to maintain metrical regularity, as in the frequent use of the monosyllable morn for ‘morning’. Keats combines both motives in this line from ‘The Eve of St Agnes’:Though thou forsakest a deceivèd thingHere the archaic pronunciation maintains the metre, and supports (with the ‘thou’) the poem's medieval setting and atmosphere. See also diction, poeticism.

Subjects: Literature.

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