What is Asyndeton
Asyndeton is a figure of speech that refers to the deliberate omission of conjunctions. This omission of conjunctions can occur within a sentence or between clauses. The function of asyndeton is to emphasize the importance of a concept and speed up the rhythm of the passage. The term Asyndeton is derived from Greek Asyndeton meaning unrelated or unlinked. This literary device itself began in Greek and Latin literature. The well known Latin phrase, “Veni, Vidi, Vici” (popularly attributed to Julius Caesar) and its English translation “I came, I saw, I conquered” is a good example of asyndeton. Although the conjunction ‘and’ has been omitted from the phrase, the phrase is grammatically accurate and is more powerful.
Asyndeton is often contrasted with Syndeton and Polysyndeton. Syndeton is the use of one conjunction to link related clauses. (She liked dancing, singing and reading.) Polysyndeton is the use of several conjunctions that could be possibly omitted. ( “In years gone by, there were in every community men and women who spoke the language of duty and morality and loyalty and obligation.” –William F. Buckley)
There are two ways of using an asyndeton. Asyndeton can be used between words, phrases within a sentence.
“Consciousness of place came ebbing back to him slowly over a vast tract of time unlit, unfelt, unlived….” – (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce)
It can also be used between sentences or clauses.
“I have done. You have heard me. The facts are before you. I ask for your judgement'”. Rhetoric by, Aristotle (translated by W. Rhys Roberts)
Examples of Asyndeton
Asyndeton can be very effective in spoken oratory than in written prose. Many great orators use this literary device to make their speeches dramatic and memorable. Given below are some examples of asyndeton from famous speeches.
“…and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth” – Abraham Lincoln
“…we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” – John F. Kennedy
“We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be…” –Winston Churchill
Examples of Asyndeton in Literature
“O mighty Caesar! Dost thou lie so low?
Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils,
Shrunk to this little measure? ..” – Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
“Call up her father.
Rouse him. Make after him, Poison his delight,
Proclaim him in the streets. Incense her kinsmen,
And, though he in a fertile climate dwell”- Othello by William Shakespeare
“Death by drowning, death by snakebite, death by mortar, death by bullet wound, death by wooden stake…death by silence, death by natural causes.
A stupid, endless menu of death.” – Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
“I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.”- Her Kind by Anne Sexton