I seem to be obsessed with those today.

Okay, here goes:

From The Ballad of Reading Gaol, by Oscar Wilde:

And I and all the souls in pain,
Who tramped the other ring,
Forgot if we ourselves had done
A great or little thing,
And watched with gaze of dull amaze
The man who had to swing.

From The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe:

Open here I flung the shutter,
when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Most native speakers here would know these two poems by heart (and, I suspect, some non-native ones would too): we read them over and over and commit them to memory as kids. It would not therefore be immediately obvious to everyone that the articles are missing. But they are. How is this justified?

  • 3
    Poetic language. That's all there is to say. – Colin Fine Jan 4 '16 at 11:25
  • 1
    @ColinFine: I don't believe in it. Apparently, Shakespeare didn't either. – Ricky Jan 4 '16 at 11:32

As a rule we would drop the article in a prepositional phrase when the noun was plural or a countless sense:

They watched with gazes of horror

Cooked in milk.

It was though once more common to drop the article when the preposition was used to supply a state that applies to the previous clause:

That slepen al the nyght with open eye [Chaucer, "General Prologue", Canterbury Tales]

This is the use that both Wilde and Poe used. However, both of these poets would sometimes use language that was old-fashioned even for their day, so as well as fitting the meter, the unusual usage adds a degree of emphasis.

It's not a use that one should normally use today.


An indefinite article suggests that there are others like this (a book, another book ...).

A definite article implies not only that this is the only one (the Tower of London, the tree at the bottom of the garden ...), but also more subtly, that the nature and limits of the subject are known.

The absence of an article, definite or indefinite, draws attention to the subject - what is this thing that we cannot number or give limits to ?

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