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Oxymoron in Friendship

Oxymoronic Diction: Through various oxymoronic expressions, such as “delicious torment,” “beautiful enemy,” and “sweet poison,” Emerson encapsulates the paradoxical nature of friendship. These phrases demonstrates the dual sensation of pleasure and pain one may experience within a friendship as well as the importance of maintaining a sense of closeness and distance with another person. In Emerson’s letter to a hypothetical friend, he signs off “Thine ever, or never.” Friendship, according to Emerson, is always a process of dichotomy—the feeling of being, in other words, yours or not yours.

Oxymoron Examples in Friendship:

"Friendship"

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"beautiful enemy..."   ("Friendship")

Emerson writes that a friend should be a “beautiful enemy.” The first word demonstrates something attractive, while the latter references someone who is an adversary. The contrast between the positive attributes of the first word against the negative attributes of the second illustrates this oxymoron. While two friends must regard each other with reverence and praise, they must simultaneously see the other as a rival. Emerson’s pupil, Henry David Thoreau, echoes this sentiment in a January 1850 journal entry in which he writes: “My so-called friend comes near to being my greatest enemy.” Both he and Emerson understood that true friendship originated out of a union of two dichotomies: antipathy and affinity.

"delicious torment..."   ("Friendship")

The oxymoronic phrase “delicious torment” exemplifies the conundrum of friendship. This phrase demonstrates the various emotions one feels within a friendship: on one hand, it is pleasant and desirable; on the other, it creates a sense of agony and torture. Combined, the two words add a third dimension to the meaning of friendship: there is delight in the torment. In other words, the joy of friendship stems from the suffering it causes.

""crush the sweet poison of misused wine"..."   ("Friendship")

In an allusion to line 47 of John Milton’s Comus (1637), Emerson likens the joy of friendship to a “sweet poison of misused wine.” The oxymoron “sweet poison” speaks to Emerson’s perspective that although friendship can become rapturous, it can also become excessive.

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