Imagined medieval monsters like the basilisk were weird and wonderful because they were in part familiar and commonplace. The basilisk, or cockatrice, was part reptile and part domestic fowl, and it had a mysterious effect on men. Metaphors can be thought of as monsters of a linguistic kind created from the elements of ordinary language. They also have a mysterious, if less fatal, effect. We are accustomed to thinking of metaphors as composed of lexical parts. What I propose to do in this paper is to consider hybrids of a syntactic kind which have the same effect of estrangement and oblige us to see a new significance in ordinary language and everyday experience. I shall take as my text a poem by Philip Larkin called ‘Mr Bleaney’. My argument will be that an appreciation of this poem depends, in some degree at least, on an understanding of the peculiarities of certain grammatical features. These have to do with person, tense and the conditional clause.
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