The traditional beginning of a literary text is an exposition giving the necessary preliminaries in which the reader is introduced into the time, the setting of action, makes the acquaintance of the characters or learns about the events preceding those of the narrative. The folklore and fairy-tale prototype of a complete exposition, including all the main elements, is something as follows:
Once upon a time there lived in the North Country a certain poor-man and his wife, who had two cornfields, three cows, five sheep and thirteen children.
/Francis Browne: The Story of Merrymind/
The exposition may also be partial – it may, for instance, be devoted to the scene of action.
A literary text may also contain elements specially designed as starting points. These are the epigraph and the prologue.
A prologue is a beginning detached from the rest of the text. It forms an introduction to a novel or a poem given in a separate chapter not immediately connected with the course of events narrated but interpreting them in a general way. This introductory explanatory function may be achieved in many different ways. In "Death of a Hero" by Richard Aldington the part called "Prologue" anticipates the events. It describes the reaction of George's family to his death, whereas the event itself is narrated on the very last page of the novel.
An epigraph is even more detached from the text itself than the prologue: it is a quotation of a motto, put at the beginning of a book or its part, generalizing or echoing or commenting on the main idea of the text. The decoding of the epigraph is apt to be underrated.
A novel may begin with a kind or general epigrammatic statement. One of the most famous in the English literature starts Jane Austen's masterpiece “Pride and Prejudice”:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
The whole novel revolves around the problems of marriage, as they are intertwined with the problems of money and social position so that the first sentence brings out the main theme. Austin Dobson says there is "scarcely a chapter which is not adroitly opened or artistically ended" in this novel.
Other writers by way of beginning address their readers in a lyrical meditative or ironical mood. Sometimes the reader is plunged in the middle of a dialogue, which may seem unimportant at first but serves to reveal the characters and sooner or later is followed by other data reflecting the situation and proves to be a helpful starting point.
The problem of strong position was discussed in a general way for the first time by I.V. Arnold. Yet some of its aspects and elements have already been investigated.
In her valuable book published on this subject Barbara Hernstein Smith maintains that we can speak of conclusion when a sequence of events has a relatively high degree of structure, in other words, it is organization or design that implies the possibility of a definite termination point. She also emphasizes the difference between concluding and merely stopping: the babbling of a baby stops, a poem or a piece of music concludes.
As it has already been pointed out, the title is the starting point of a chain of expectations. As we read a poem we are continuously subjected to small surprises and disappointments as the developing lines avoid or contradict our expectations. An experience is pleasant when tensions are created and released and expectations fulfilled. A temporary heightening of tension makes resolution more satisfying. The sense of finality is dependent upon the sense of integrity of the thematic and formal structure of the text as a whole.
Some specifically linguistic features of poetic closure are provided by such lexical means that point out to some stopping moments in human life, represented by such words as: death, sleep, winter, night, and homecoming. One finds ample proof for this statement, when looking through W. Shakespeare's sonnets.
Thus in Sonnet 146 the couplet sounds as follows:
So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men
And death once dead, there's no dying then.
The effect of a closure, especially if we have in mind W.Shakespeare's sonnets, is to sum up the poem's theme, sometimes by an unexpected approach, showing it in a new light, to formulate a moral, etc.
The couplet or any other closure may throw light on the type of utterance the poem is meant to imitate or on the background it implies. In sonnet 129, for instance, there is a sort of moralizing summary ironically suggesting a sermon:
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
Tо shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.
The couplet gives a moral: conclusion to which the previous lines were moving, yet at the same time there is some surprise in it. This couplet is also interesting for the discussion of closure because it exemplifies one more important lexical peculiarity. There are some lexical categories not mentioned by S. Smith, which act as integrating and concluding forces. These are categories expressing universality and represented by such words as: all, none, world, everyone, any, etc. Both types of lexical units – those connected with stopping, and those connected with universality are present in the final line of the poem by G.M. Hopkins:
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.
Couplet is a pair of rhyming verse lines, usually of the same length; one of the most widely used verse-forms in European poetry.
What one must not forget in connection with the foregrounding by strong position is that it is never something apart from the rest of the text. On the contrary, it exists only due to the whole. The conclusion confirms and evaluates retrospectively all that the reader has experienced while reading.