Chiasmus

Chiasmus is a stylistic medium that we encounter in lyric poetry. In this case, equivalent words, partial sentences or sentences are arranged in a cross-wise manner in the immediate sequence. This means that the chiasmus describes the almost mirror image of one of these elements in the following section.

term
The word is derived from the Greek letter Chi, that is, X, and is known to us in its Latinized form. If we think of the letter X, it is quite clear what chiasmus basically means: namely, a cross-position. Let us look at a simple example.

I love the language, the language I love
It is noticeable that the individual components of the sentence are exactly mirrored after the comma (subject, predicate, object become certainly object, predicate subject). The comma can be regarded here as an axis, which initiates the break and the repetition.

In order to underline the cross-form even more, we make two verses in our example, and leave the punctuation mark in order to be able to look at the cross better.

I love the language
the language I love
This example is quite simple and consists only of the sequence of three parts. However, it is also a little more complex and especially in the literature are usually more complicated examples, which do not show exactly the mirror-reflected sequence. Let us look at two lines from Goethe’s Faust, which are also quite clear.

Oh God! The art is long;
And briefly is our life.
We have to delete the exclamation “Oh God!”, Since he is merely pre-eminently following the chiasmus. As a result, the unambiguous shape of the cross can again be seen very clearly, which of course is promoted by the verse form. However, this is not necessary.

Consequently, a chiasm can also appear in a simple sentence, which makes us think of the typical cross simply. As an example, a sentence of Karl Marx can be applied.

The weapon of criticism, however, can not replace the criticism of the weapons.
Note: The structure of chiasmus is often specified by ABBA. This refers to the reflective arrangement of the sentence building blocks and is not to be confused with the hugging rhyme.

Semantic chiasmus
In principle, it was described as the syntactic mirroring of certain elements. That is, words, partial sentences, or sets are placed in a cross-wise manner in a direct sequence. However, a chiasmus can also be described at the semantic level. Let us look at an example from Friedrich Schiller’s Maria Stuart.

Your life is your death! Your death is your life!
Strictly speaking, we are dealing here with a parallel syntax (→ parallelism) and not with a cross-section in the sentence structure, however it almost looks like this. If, however, we use the color marking for the semantic level, that is, meaning, there is already a kind of cross-sectional comparison.

Your life is your death! Your death is your life!
In terms of content, the words life and death are placed in a crossroads, which is characteristic of chiasmus. Consequently, the theorem can also be regarded as such, albeit not on a syntactic level. If we find such a verse or sentence, it must be expressly indicated that we are referring to the level of meaning since the pure chiasm is not present.

 

Function and effect of chiasmus
Obviously, stylistic figures always have an effect or function when we stumble upon them when reading. Sometimes we can also call it an effect.

Chiasmus is often used to emphasize contradictory assertions (→ antithesis), since these appear even more clearly in the crossroads of the respective sentence components. However, antithetics is not absolutely necessary, but can only be strengthened by the chiasmus.
Consequently, the chiasmus has an intensifying effect on what has been said or written, since the repetition brings the actual statement to the fore. A similar function can be achieved using anapher and anadiplosis.
Note: The counterpart to chiasmus is synchysis. This stylistic device does not put the sentence members into a cross-position, but forms a connected word sequence.

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