I'm writing a poem, and I wondered if, to a native speaker, this would sound awkward (or grammatically incorrect):

Aloof the hallow things shall always be.

As a variant of

The hallow things shall always be aloof.

Is my phrase grammatically correct (for a poem)?

  • 2
    It's completely correct. It reminds me of Yoda.
    – Luke_0
    Aug 16, 2012 at 23:20
  • 2
    @Luke No, Yoda does something else, actually. This is merely putting the most important word first in a sentence, something that English has done since OE, and to this day still does — on somewhat rare occasion, admittedly.
    – tchrist
    Aug 16, 2012 at 23:25
  • 2
    Yes, it would sound very awkward in any speech other than possibly oratory (which tends towards the poetic). Grammar rules are messed with in poetry, not exactly anything goes, but whatever artistically 'works'. So 'grammatically correct for a poem' is pretty loose.
    – Mitch
    Aug 17, 2012 at 21:52
  • It's actually quite an interesting question. Probably, this was totally fine 200 years ago, but is it gramatically correct now?
    – jocap
    Oct 11, 2013 at 14:42

2 Answers 2


Yes, this is the poetic device known as hyperbaton. It is quite common. See also its treatment here, which discusses the devices of lyric poetry, including in Le Guin and Tolkien.

Speaking of whom, in Letter #171, J.R.R. Tolkien, responding to criticism of his ‘archaic’ style, wrote the following:

[ . . . ] Why deliberately ignore, refuse to use the wealth of English which leaves us a choice of styles – without any possibility of unintelligibility.

              I can see no more reason for not using the much terser and more vivid ancient style, than for changing the obsolete weapons, helps, shields, hauberks into modern uniforms.

              ‘Helms too they chose’ is archaic. Some (wrongly) class it as an ‘inversion’, since normal order is ‘They also chose helmets’ or ‘they chose helmets too’. (Real mod. E. ‘They also picked out some helmets and round shields’.) But this is not normal order, and if mod. E. has lost the trick of putting a word desired to emphasize (for pictorial, emotional or logical reasons) into prominent first place, without addition of a lot of little ‘empty’ words (as the Chinese say), so much the worse for it.

              I am sorry to find you affected by the extraordinary 20th. C. delusion that its usages per se and simply as ‘contemporary’ – irrespective of whether they are terser, more vivid (or even nobler!) – have some peculiar validity above those of all other times, so that not to use them (even when quite unsuitable in tone) is a solecism, a gaffe, a thing at which one’s friends shudder or feel hot in the collar. Shake yourself out of this parochialism of time! [emphasis mine ―tchrist] Also (not to be too donnish about it) learn to distinguish between the bogus and the genuine antique – as you would if you hoped not to be cheated by a dealer!

  • 1
    Thanks for pointing that out! I'm confident about it now
    – JCOC611
    Aug 16, 2012 at 23:35
  • @JCOC611 Then take heart in the excerpted quote I’ve just now added for you, that it might lend you resolve in these matters.
    – tchrist
    Aug 16, 2012 at 23:50

As tchrist noted, using hyperbaton to achieve rhetorical effect is acceptable technique. But there's a problem with hallow in the sentences as they currently stand:

Aloof the hallow things shall always be.
The hallow things shall always be aloof.

Note that hallow (a verb) should instead be hallowed (an adjective) if you wish for the sentences to be grammatical and sensible.

  • +1 Although the main question was already answered, thanks for making such a keen observation!
    – JCOC611
    Aug 16, 2012 at 23:44

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