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Here's a piece of writing I came up with:

The rolling billows rocked the mighty galleon
cradling it madly as if it were but a mere child.

There are many seeming contradictions: When we think "billows rocked" we think of a powerful motion, "cradling" goes against that, and then "madly" goes against cradling and finally "as if it were but a mere child" goes completely against the idea of a powerful "rolling billow"?

Is this just really bad style? It seems to have a poetic effect. Is there a way to leverage such inconsistencies to deliberately create this effect? And can it be used in novels, or only in poetry?

closed as off-topic by Cyn, Galastel, Kale Slade, JP Chapleau, S. Mitchell Jan 29 at 19:18

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    I think what you are talking about is more closely described as Oxymoron. – Alexander Jan 24 at 21:30
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    Hi and welcome to the site. I found your original post confusing, so I edited it to clarify it as I understood it. If my edits are not correct, feel free to revert them. – Chris Sunami Jan 24 at 21:43
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    Is it an oxymoron though? I look at the examples on the Internet and they're straightforward and more often than not involve only 2 words. – puffofsmoke Jan 24 at 21:56
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    I wouldn't personally call it an oxymoron. // This might be a stronger question if you can give examples from outside your own writing. Have you seen this used effectively by a published author? – Chris Sunami Jan 24 at 22:09
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    I'd either say "...as if it were but a child" or "...as if if were a mere child." Trying to combine the two - "but a mere child" - reads awkwardly to me. – Chris Hunt Jan 25 at 2:46
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I don't think it's an oxymoron. Sure thing, you have chosen a strange mix of images to evoke - mainly due to the contrast between "cradling" and "rocked".

But as far as I read it, it's a legitimate metaphor: the ship in this case is not bigger than a child in a cradle compared to the storm outside. The juxtaposion of the single elements may seem oxymoronic at first, but at large the "ship as a cradle" idea is not unheard of. It's not even so illogical, it just requires a little stretch of imagination.

Is this just really bad style? It seems to have a poetic effect. Is there a way to leverage such inconsistencies to deliberately create this effect? And can it be used in novels, or only in poetry?

I don't think it is, but then again it's opinions. You are already leveraging the effect of the metaphor and contrasting images. And yes, it could.

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Poetry forces us to see things in a different way, so it often uses language in ways that we wouldn't typically see in prose. Grammar that is technically incorrect, words used in non-standard ways, deliberate misspellings, idiosyncratic punctuation, and odd juxtapositions are just a few of the "disruptions" occasionally practiced by poets.

In this case, the deliberate mixing of contrasting metaphors is actually fairly effective in conjuring up a vivid mental image --the mind is forced to work just a little bit harder to find a way for it all to make sense.

It's quite common to occasionally use poetic techniques in prose writing. But they are perhaps best used sparingly, since they can interfere with the literal transmission of information that is the central focus of prose.

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I know there are two answers and both of them are positive and one accepted but precisely because of that I wanted to give a negative one.

To me it feels overdone. I feel you’re doing it by the shake of juxtaposing confronting images rather than by a desire to transmit a particular feeling or view. You yourself express that on your doubts about the phrase itself. You say “it seems to have a poetic effect”. If you don’t know why, or what it is that you’re looking to convey, then you’re doing it by the shake of it.

The meaning of Oxymoron is the juxtaposition of two seemingly contradictory concepts to create a third. The key concept here in my view is to create a third and that’s what makes it both poetic and beautiful. That third concept is what, to me, is missing from your phrase. It’s just not there.

To me it is about purpose, not form. Had you said something like:

The rolling billows rocked the mighty galleon cradling it into the darkness pits of the ocean.

Then, to me at least, it works better as it really conveys the fact that the storm sunk the ship but the death was somehow peaceful. That way, the juxtaposition of contradictory meanings conveys the image of a peaceful death on the middle of a terrible storm.

  • +1 "If you don’t know why, or what it is that you’re looking to convey, then you’re doing it by the shake of it." This statement says it all. Everything in writing is about the meaning the author wants to convey. – Sara Costa Jan 28 at 23:51

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