A Stylistic Analysis of William Shakespeare's Poem "Winter"

Topics: Linguistics, William Shakespeare, Literature Pages: 8 (907 words) Published: August 31, 2007


Linguistic studies have taken such rapid strides in recent years that the range is baffling

to the innocent and amazingly delightful to the linguistics-oriented. Applied linguistics is

concerned with many fields and subjects on Planet Earth and possibly beyond that.

A piece of literature largely depends on thought and style. The concept of style in

literature is the product of abstraction in the sense that style is based on a special and

unique use of language. It is just one quality contained in any piece of writing. The style

of a novel, a play, an essay or a poem is only one part of its totality.

The study of style has been in use in German, French and English since the early 19th

century. In the early sixties of the 20th century M.A.K.Halliday introduced the term

'linguistic stylistics'. The main concern of descriptive linguistics is the systematic study of

that part of human behavior called language.

William Wordsworth in Lyrical Ballads (1798) suggested that poetry should deal with the

experience of those living close to Nature, especially in the country. It could be "the

language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society.. "

Long before the Poet of Nature came on the scene, Shakespeare brought the language

close to those who dwelt in the country. Hence my selection of this particular poem.

Keeping in mind all these concepts we can attempt a lexical analysis of the poem

composed in the inimitable style of Shakespeare.


'When icicles hang by the wall,

And Dick the shepherd blows the nail,

And Tom bears logs into the hall,

And milk comes frozen home in pail

When blood is nipt and ways be foul,

Then nightly sings the staring owl


Tuwhit, tuwhoo! A merry note!

While greasy Joan doth keel the pot,

When all around the wind doth blow,

And coughing drowns the parson's saw,

And birds sit brooding in the snow,

And Marian's nose looks red and raw,

When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl

Then nightly sings the staring owl

Tuwhoo !

Tuwhit ! tuwhoo! A merry note!

While greasy Joan doth keel the pot'.

The poem begins with adverb of time "when" and goes on to use 'when', 'then' and

'while', a total of light occurrences. These adverbs render the idea of time and space to the

narration. The place is evidently a cottage in the country.

Shakespeare the dramatist provides an interesting dramatic touch with the appearance of

characters within and outside the humble house. Dick the shepherd, Tom (must be the

son), Joan (of course the wife), parson and Marian. Birds, crabs and the owl complete the


_Nominals used for winter:_

Icicles Snow Wind

A typical pastoral cottage is described with special register words :

Wall milk Nail pail Hall bowl Logs pot Greasy roasted

Language activity is related to each character:

'Dick the shepherd blows his nail'

'Tom bears logs into the house'

'Greasy Joan doth keel the pot '

The coughing parson'

Marian with a nose red and raw with cold.

In addition to human beings the poet uses the language to

bring into focus other creatures like 'roasted crabs'. Even the owl and the birds are

engaged in their appointed language activity.

'And birds sit brooding in the snow' 'Then nightly sings the staring owl'

'Brooding birds' and 'sings the staring owl' are alliterative as well as unusual collocations.

The poet attributes human situations like 'brooding' and 'staring' to feathered creatures.

More unusual collocations:

'greasy Joan'

'roasted crabs hissing'

Pots and pans can be greasy but here 'greasy Joan' is a picturesque presentation. Can

crabs hiss in the bowl? But it is the poet's prerogative to assign any action to anyone by

keeping his inventions under the spell of his language, and without offering any...

References: Carter, Ronald, ed. 1982. Language and literature: An introductory reader in stylistics.
Chapman, Raymond. 1973. Linguistics and literature: An
introduction to literary stylistics
Fowler, Roger, ed. 1966. Essays on style and language.
Fowler, Roger. 1986. Studying literature as language. In Theo
D 'haen, ed
Freeman, Donald C., ed. 1970. Linguistics and literary style.
Halliday, M.A.K. 1970. Descriptive linguistics in literary
Halliday, M.A.K., and Ruqaiya Hasan. 1976. Cohesion in
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