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An English Teacher's Glossary - Paradox

A form of irony where a seeming contradiction turns out to be a profound truth, for example, Jesus' words: ‘So the last shall be first, and the first last.’ Or a message from Ecclesiastes: all things are full of emptiness.

Paradoxes trap philosophers but set poets free, reveal to them, in the words of T.S. Eliot, ‘the still point of the turning world’.

Paradoxes are not only figures of speech; humans are living paradoxes: they kill to live, for example, they fight for peace; the more they know, the less they know.


The earth is a paradox: it feels still, yet it is hurtling through space and spinning on its axis. It doesn’t feel like a carousel.


Here is that master of paradox, Andrew Marvell, in an extract from his poem, ‘Eyes and Tears’:


Yet happy they whom grief doth bless,

That weep the more, and see the less;

And, to preserve their sight more true,

Bathe still their eyes in their own dew.

So Magdalen in tears more wise

Dissolved those captivating eyes,

Whose liquid chains could flowing meet

To fetter her redeemer’s feet.


Vision is an inadequate means of perceiving the world.

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