I hope this question isn't off-topic.
I heard a madrigal with the following verse which bothers me somewhat, grammatically.

Cruel, wilt thou persever?
Peace to leave ever?
Peace shalt thou have and gladness,
But when in sadness,
When thou the morn seest ev'n,
To fall from heav'n.

Thomas Morley (1597)

Cruel seems to be used as a noun instead of an adjective. Is this non-standard or common use of the time? Even if so, and allowing for poetic license, how is this to be understood: personifying cruelty and addressing it or some other way? Also, but are there separate terms for the following kinds of liberty taken in poetry?

  1. terms for using non-standard grammar from an unexpected part of speech (as in cruel wilt thou persever?) or a double negative, (as in I can't get no satisfaction - Rolling Stones) in a line in order to get the lines to scan?
  2. a term for using a contractions to get the lines to scan, as in ev'n and heav'n
  3. I was able to find a term for using a word to rhyme that doesn't quite rhyme, as in come, one and home or ev'n and heav'n: (assonance), but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.
  • 1
    I think this question is asking too much. It would probably be better to split the different parts into separate questions. If there is one overarching question that you really care about, be sure to emphasize it appropriately so we know to focus on it.
    – MrHen
    May 27, 2011 at 3:13
  • Your question is difficult to parse. Do you mean "Is 'cruel' standard use as a noun in poetry?" (or maybe recast the sentence complely) May 27, 2011 at 3:15
  • I actually read it as inverted sentence order with ellipsis: "Wilt thou persever (in being) cruel?" A somewhat similar construction to "Happy the man" by Dryden. Jul 13, 2016 at 7:24

5 Answers 5


My guess would be that cruel is used to indicate a person or something personified: oh, cruel one—not cruelty.

1.) If a poet uses uncommon instruments confined to poetry in order to fit the metre/rhythm of his verse, he is said to be using them metri causa, "for the sake of metre" (Latin). I don't think there is any more specific term to match your examples.

Using a double negative to mean a (strong) negative is now just slang, which can be used as a figure of speech.

Using a double negative to mean a (strong) positive is called litotes:

There was no lack of willing maidens.

2.) Omitting letters (mostly vowels) in the middle of a word is called syncope.

3.) [Edited:] Assonance means simply that you use two words or syllables in close proximity that (only) share the same vowel sound, as opposed to consonance, where they share the same consonant sound. If they share initial consonants, it is called alliteration.

Assonance: of lock and pot

Consonance: all the levels will collapse

Alliteration: seven sodden sisters

Your example ev'n–heav'n would be consonance; there might be a word for semi-assonance, but I don't know any. I'm not sure what to make of come–one–home: it is conceivable that their vowels were identical in 16th-century pronunciation. Even and heaven might even have rhymed in the 16th century—I don't know.

  • ev'n and heav'n don't actually share the same vowel sound, but an approximation that apparently is nevertheless assonance. Thanks for the poetry lesson.
    – Spare Oom
    May 28, 2011 at 0:32
  • @SpareOom: Oh, I explained what assonance was but forgot to comment on your actual examples! I don't those are commonly considered assonance; perhaps that is called semi-assonance, but there is probably a better word for it. It's also not just vowels, but mainly corresponding consonants: v and n in heaven and even. I'm not sure what to think of come/one/home; perhaps those words were pronounced differently in the 16th century, so that they did rhyme. The same might be the case with heav'n/ev'n, but they already work in modern English. May 28, 2011 at 0:56
  • @Ceberus: It had occurred to me also that the vowel sounds could have changed over the years or that English accents vary, so they may still rhyme in some areas. My question was somewhat influenced by my recollection of a scene in Educating Rita imdb.com/title/tt0085478 in which Rita's teacher used a word that she understood as getting the rhyme wrong, which fits for both assonance and consonance. In the example of come-one-home, I may be mixing examples where they wouldn't have been originally together. I don't have a specific quote for that set. Semi-assonance works for me.
    – Spare Oom
    May 28, 2011 at 17:58
  • @SpareOom ev'n - heav'n is half-rhyme (even was pronounced with a "long e" in Morley's day -- cf. e'en). The blanket term is poetic license Oct 21, 2012 at 15:39

No, it is not common to use "cruel" as a noun; but I think it is actually being used more or less as a name.


This is very poetic usage, where anything doesn't always 'go' but there sure is a lot of leeway. The poet probably didn't think the noun form 'cruelty' word fit the meter.

So it would be ungrammatical in most any variety of everyday spoken English to use 'cruel' as a noun, even personified.

Poets take liberties with all sorts of things, pronunciation, syntax, word meaning, etc., in order to fit some arbitrary meter or rhyme scheme


Cruel, wilt thou persever?

The "cruel" used here is referring to Cruelty in general. Poetry sometimes addresses a character value as a person, i.e.

The first was a fair maid, and Love her name;
The second was Ambition, pale of cheek,

And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips

This was just a practice in older poetry. Morley, in your example, was addressing the character value of Cruelty.

N.B. The quotes were taken from John Keats.

  • 3
    No. As Cerberus says, it is addressing a person, not the abstract quality or circumstances: it is almost a name here.
    – Colin Fine
    May 27, 2011 at 15:28

"Cruel" is being used here as an adjective, but the being that it describes (who is being addressed in the poem) is omitted.

The way to think of it is as follows:

"Cruel [Lady or perhaps Lord God--whomever you think is being addressed], wilt thou perserver?…" [in making me miserable, refusing me, etc]

The Madrigal was a secular form, but this could also be a religious poem. However, Moreley is considered more a composer than Metaphysical poet, so the poem is probably about love and it is a Cruel Lady who is being addressed.

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