8

Here is "My Heart's in the Highlands" by Robert Burns (https://www.bartleby.com/360/8/24.html).

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild deer, and following the roe.
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birthplace of valor, the country of worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove, The hills of the Highlands forever I love.
Farewell to the mountains high covered with snow;
Farewell to the straths and green valleys below;
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods; Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.
My heart ’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild deer, and following the roe.
My heart’s in the Highlands wherever I go.

Here is my question: does the author's use of parallelism reinforce the poem's strong visual images?

The book says parallelism only adds to the poem's rhythm and elicits an emotional response from the reader with only such explanation about images:

In this poem, parallelism does not affect the strong visual images in any way

Why not? For example, in this excerpt, doesn't it help to produce stronger images by applying the same structure of lines?

Farewell to the mountains high covered with snow;
Farewell to the straths and green valleys below;
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods;
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.

  • 3
    You don't want to put too much stock in what any book says :-) There are usually several different interpretations and ways of reading a good piece of literature. – Rand al'Thor Jun 24 '18 at 17:19
  • How do you see the structure of the line affecting strength of image? What is strength if image, come to that? – Spagirl Jun 28 '18 at 3:53
  • All poems use imagery - and where is parallelism in this poem. Parallelism to the best of my understanding is the image described in a piece can be equally applied to something else, which may be deemed to be described. Here Robert Burn's poem is about just the description of Scottish Highlands. – Suresh Ramaswamy Jul 11 '18 at 5:03
  • @SureshRamaswamy Here is the definition I've found: "the use of successive verbal constructions in poetry or prose which correspond in grammatical structure, sound, metre, meaning, etc." But in my experience and in regard to this poem, parallelism is mainly the same sentence structure (here it is "Farewell to the" in four consecutive lines). – Elena Kolumba Jul 15 '18 at 8:32
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    @ElenaKolumba I think you would do better, in the context of your question and this poem, to separate sight and sound from feeling. The repetition can certainly be considered to strengthen the communication of feeling, of departure and loss, without strengthening the visual image. – Spagirl Jul 15 '18 at 11:25
6

Let's look at this claim in context. It comes from SAT II Success: Literature (2002) by Margaret Moran and W. Frances Holder. This is a test-taking guide for the SAT Subject Test in Literature, which is a multiple-choice standardized test given to college applicants in the United States. So the claim has to be understood in context as a helpful piece of advice to students preparing to take this particular test, not necessarily as a true fact about the poem.

This is the question under discussion:

7. The author’s use of parallelism

I. reinforces the poem’s strong visual images.
II. adds to the poem’s rhythm.
III. elicits an emotional response from the reader.

(A) I only (B) II only (C) III only (D) I and II (E) II and III

And this is the answer:

7. The correct answer is (E). In this poem, parallelism does not affect the strong visual images in any way; therefore, rule out item I and any answers that include item I, choices (A) and (D). You may recall that many of Burns’ poems were written to be sung. Read the poem again. Parallel structure does add to the rhythm, item II, and the repetition of “My heart’s in the Highlands” cannot help but elicit an emotional response from the reader, item III. Therefore, choice (E) is the correct answer, because it includes both II and III.

The phrase “strong visual images” requires some interpretation. The poem does not actually contain any visual images: it only contains descriptions that might, for some readers, elicit mental images. Presumably “visual images” is being used as jargon for this. (Personally, I think the phrase is unhelpful because of the way it conflates the poem and the reader, and because people vary widely in their ability to form mental imagery, but you can’t fight city hall.)

What does it mean for a description to be “strong”? Well, the OED says:

strong, adj. 23. a. Of literary or artistic work: vigorous or forceful in style or execution; making a distinct impression on the mind

If we take “strong” in the first half of this definition (“vigorous or forceful in style or execution”), then item I must be wrong: repetition of “Farewell” can’t change the style or execution of “mountains high covered with snow”.

But if we take “strong” in the second half of this definition (“making a distinct impression on the mind”) then item I could be right: repetition of “Farewell” could draw the descriptions to the reader’s attention and so make more of an impression on their mind.

So it comes down to ambiguity in the definition of words, I’m afraid. This is the trouble with multiple-choice tests: they are cheap to mark but lack all scope for nuance. In a written essay the student would have the opportunity to explain how they interpreted “strong”.

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