3 years ago
WordDoctor
in English · 6,160 Views
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What is a Metaphor, and How Do You Make One?
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Hello fellow poetry appreciators and writers! Do you ever find it a little difficult to explain or even understand what a metaphor is? You're not alone! This beautiful, integral part of the poetic act is definitely hard to pin down, but exhilarating when you do. One of my favorite explanations and illustrations of the metaphor, or "metafora" in Italian, is in the wonderful Italian movie "Il Postino," which portrays an encounter between a naive country postman full of the poetic spirit and the legendary Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. I have attached two clips from the movie - the first showing "Pablo" explaining a metaphor, and the second illustrating how one is made. Take a look, then come back here for more! According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Metaphor is but one of many techniques, named and unnamed, for likening one thing to another by means of words." That's not to be confused with a simile, which is "an explicit comparison of one thing to another, built around like, as, or some other explicit comparative construction." Examples of similes: One walking a fall meadow finds on all sides The Queen-Anne's lace lying *like* lilies on water. (Richard Wilbur, “The Beautiful Changes”) He looked about as inconspicuous *as* a tarantula on a slice of angel food. (Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely, chap. 1) Metaphors, on the other hand, are much more subtle. Here are their examples of metaphors: But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east and Juliet is the sun! (Romeo and Juliet, 2. 2. 2–3) —History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake. (James Joyce, Ulysses, chap. 2) A work is a death mask of its conception. (Walter Benjamin, Einbahnstraße) Did you notice the lack of signal words "like" or "as"? Again, the SEoP, with a more in-depth look at what happens in a metaphor: "When we resort to metaphor, we contrive to talk about two things at once; two different and disparate subject matters are mingled to rich and unpredictable effect. One of these subject matters is already under discussion or at least already up for consideration when a speaker resorts to metaphor in the first place. This is the metaphor's primary subject or tenor: the young girl Juliet in the case of Romeo's metaphor; history, Ireland's history or the world's, in the case of Stephen's; works, prose writings in general, in the case of Benjamin's. The second subject matter is newly introduced with an eye to temporarily enriching our resources for thinking and talking about the first. This is the metaphor's secondary subject or vehicle: the sun; nightmares from which one tries to awake; death masks, i.e., death masks in general. The primary subject of a metaphor may be a particular thing, or it may be a whole kind of thing, and likewise for the secondary subject—with the result that the metaphor itself may take the verbal form of an identity statement (X is Y) as with Romeo; a predication or membership statement (X is a G) as with Stephen Daedalus; or a statement of inclusion (Fs are Gs) as with Benjamin. (The primary/secondary terminology derives from Beardsley (1962), the tenor/vehicle terminology from I.A. Richards (1936).) "If we ask how primary and secondary subjects are brought into relation by being spoken of together in a metaphor, it seems natural to say that metaphor is a form of likening, comparing, or analogizing. The maker of a metaphor (or the metaphor itself) likens the primary subject to the secondary subject: Romeo (or Romeo's speech) likens Juliet to the sun, Stephen likens history to nightmares, Benjamin likens works in prose to death masks. But it is unclear what we mean when we say this, to the point where some are reluctant to appeal to likeness or similarity in explaining what metaphor is or how it works. Much of the power and interest of many a good metaphor derives from how massively and conspicuously different its two subject matters are, to the point where metaphor is sometimes defined by those with no pretensions to originality as “a comparison of two unlike things.” The interpretation of a metaphor often turns not on properties the secondary subject actually has or even on ones it is believed to have but instead on ones we habitually pretend it to have: think of what happens when we call someone a gorilla." Still not sure? Think you're getting it? Why don't you go to my Card of Neruda's poem "Adonic Angela" and try to find some metaphors, then share them here in the comments? Here's the link: http://www.vingle.net/posts/587310-Daily-Neruda-Adonic-Angela
2 comments
Thanks for all the info! I definitely have already learned how to identify metaphors before, but it's not always that easy. Even if you know a metaphor, sometimes you don't see it. I think I might be seeing some metaphors in the Neruda, but I'm not even sure! :)
3 years ago·Reply
I always had a really hard time distinguishing metaphors from similes when I took my intro to poetry class in school (it can be really hard to pick apart, even if you know the basic 'rule!') I think this helped. Thanks!! @WordDoctor
3 years ago·Reply