Synchysis is a poetic device frequently used by Latin writers to force the reader to concentrate on the meaning of the words by confusing their order. Usually, synchysis involves alternating the words in two phrases so that the modifiers are separated from their subjects. Another way to use synchysis features two adjectives followed by two nouns with a conjunction between them. This poetic way of speaking often drives emphasis and meaning into the phrase, allowing the reader to interpret it in several different ways. The mind doesn’t usually think in terms of synchysis, so the reader often has to focus diligently on these phrases to understand them properly.
One of the easiest ways to create synchysis in a poem is to separate modifiers from their subjects with a comma or a conjunction. For instance, an author might write “She danced and sang, swift and loud.” The initial meaning of this may seem to be that the girl’s dancing and singing were both swift and loud. The reader might also look at this phrase a bit harder and realize that her dancing was swift and her singing was loud. Confusing and mixing words this way usually gives these phrases multiple layers of meaning.
Another way to create synchysis is a bit more difficult, both for the poet and the reader. Alexander Pope gives a particularly complicated example here: “Matter too soft a lasting mark to bear.” Here, Pope reorders words to create a soft, translucent phrase that often takes the reader a moment to understand. He could have simply said “This soft matter will not leave a lasting mark,” but he purposely confuses the reader instead. Pope makes his point quickly but the phrase, unlike the matter mentioned in the quote, often leaves its own lasting mark.
Though some forms of synchysis don’t follow any set pattern, most examples contain an ABAB structure. The first A and B are usually adjectives, while the second A and B are the nouns that go with them. This pattern is sometimes written as abAB because the adjectives are simply descriptive and the nouns are considered more important. An example of this could be “pink cheerful flower girl.” In this example, 'pink' most obviously modifies 'flowers' while 'cheerful' modifies 'girl.' Synchysis often contains double meanings, and this phrase is no exception. The reader could interpret the phrase as defined above, but he or she should also link everything together, as in both the girl and the flowers might be cheerful and pink.