What is the literary device used for the following quote from The Fellowship of the Ring :

By light of moon and ray of star

I think that it is an idiom.... I may be wrong!

  • 2
    I guess that's from Tolkien, is it? Or did you have another author in mind? (It's always best to quote the source in the question) – Andrew Leach Nov 21 '16 at 15:10
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    It's not an "idiom" in the sense of "established usage that apparently contravenes normal syntax". It's just a one-off "poetic-archaic" usage by Tolkien that would probably never occur again except as an intentional reference to the "original". – FumbleFingers Nov 21 '16 at 15:26
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    Not even Tolkien seems to have managed to get it so widely used as to qualify as an idiom. It's certainly in the poetic register. 'By the light of the silvery moon' would seem to be a fixed expression (popularised by the film and song), but 'by ray of star' is very idiosyncratic. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 21 '16 at 15:27
  • @andrew-leach I added your link into the question body – k1eran Nov 21 '16 at 16:32

Eye of newt and toe of frog

If idioms by their words invoke
some special meaning hard to guess,
then no, this turn of phrase you’ll note
has none of that: it’s for the stress.

Instead it turns the word around
to better fit its count and line
and measure beats out as they sound,
this more for meter than for rhyme:

  • by right of birth (by birthright)
  • by force of arms (by armed force)
  • by force of will (by willpower)
  • by dark of night (by darkness)
  • by light of day (by daylight)
  • by light of sun (by sunlight)
  • by break of day (by daybreak)


He sought her ever, wandering far
Where leaves of years were thickly strewn,
By light of moon and ray of star
In frosty heavens shivering.

A king he was on carven throne
In many-pillared halls of stone
With golden roof and silver floor,
And runes of power upon the door.
The light of sun and star and moon
In shining lamps of crystal hewn
Undimmed by cloud or shade of night
There shone for ever fair and bright.


Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard's leg, and howlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark,
Liver of blaspheming Jew,
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Silver’d in the moon’s eclipse,
Nose of Turk and Tartar’s lips,
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver’d by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron,
For the ingredients of our cauldron.

  • Interesting short article on Tolkien's poems' rhythm at kith.org/journals/neology/2010/07/four-footed-poets.html - it discusses how Tolkien loves using iambic tetrameter in his poems. – k1eran Nov 22 '16 at 21:44
  • Also I’m intrigued to see the way that night and day; that dark of night and light of day are different. “Daylight” has a different form from “darkness” as we see, but how does “Daybreak” earn a place beside them? Just as “night dark” isn’t “darkness”, “daybreak” takes a different form and then where are we? – Robbie Goodwin Dec 6 '16 at 0:30

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