Paradox – how to understand it

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Paradox – definition

paradox Paradox is a figure of speech in which a statement appears to be self-contradictory, but contains something of a truth.

  • The child is father to the man.
  • Cowards die many times before their death.


redbtn Paradox is used for emphasis or stylistic effect.

redbtn The paradox is closely related to oxymoron — which is sometimes defined as ‘a contracted paradox’.

redbtn That is, the paradox is an apparently contradictory statement; whereas the contradiction in an oxymoron is reduced to just two antithetical terms.

redbtn Paradox was much-used by the Metaphysical poets of the senteenth century — of whom John Donne is perhaps the best known. The following example is taken from one of his religious sonnets in which he appeals to God to strengthen his beliefs. He packs three paradoxes into these last four lines:

Divorce mee, untie, or breake that knot againe,
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

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© Roy Johnson 2003

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