January 8, 2013

Learn to Use Figurative Language

Work with Images

The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayes can be a valuable text for poets.  I’ve gathered some insights from this excellent resource and present them here:

The painter Degas said he had many ideas for poems but couldn’t manage to say what he wanted. His friend, Mallarme, replied, “My dear Degas, one does not make poetry with ideas but with words.”  

There are two kinds of writing: literal and figurative. A literal image remakes something in words; it works as a photograph. A figurative image (also called a trope) will:

  • expand the sensory perception beyond the literal meaning
  • give pleasure or surprise to the imagination
  • impart vigor by the inclusion of another active sensory detail
  • intensify the deeper intention in the poem by adding the new dimension of the figurative image

Simile - a comparison that uses the word as or like

Silken Tent
by Robert Frost

She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when the sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To everything on earth the compass round,
And only by one's going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightest bondage made aware.

Metaphor -  “this is that” -- it transfers the meaning of one thing to another thing

754/   My Life had stood -- a Loaded Gun --
Emily Dickinson

My Life had stood -- a Loaded Gun --
In Corners -- till a Day
The Owner passed -- identified --
And carried Me away --

And now We roam in Sovereign Woods --
And now We hunt the Doe --
And every time I speak for Him --
The Mountains straight reply --

And do I smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow --
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let its pleasure through --

And when at Night -- Our good Day done --
I guard My Master's Head --
'Tis better than the Eider-Duck's
Deep Pillow -- to have shared --

To foe of His -- I'm deadly foe --
None stir the second time --
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye --
Or an emphatic Thumb --

Though I than He -- may longer live
He longer must -- than I --
For I have but the power to kill,
Without -- the power to die --

Besides simile and metaphor, a poet can employ other tropes or techniques:  

Synesthesia : one sense expressed in the terms of another

A crinkled paper makes a brilliant sound (Wallace Stevens)
And the Sabbath rang slowly/ In the pebbles of the holy streams (Dylan Thomas)

I stayed overnight at a motel by the E3./In my room a smell I'd felt before (Tomas Tranströmer)
Use of associations

  • Metonymy: an identifying emblem is substituted for the whole name, ex: a red, for communist; old salt, for sailor;
           Her voice is full of money.  (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
  • Synecdoche:  a piece of part of the whole represents the whole (keeps to itself for the representing image) ex: redneck

Personification- gives human qualities to a thing or to something not human

Figurative language greatly enhances the power of a poem.  

Mayes, Frances. The Discovery of Poetry: A Field Guide to Reading and Writing Poetry. c2001. Harcourt Books. Florida.

Buy this book at your local bookstore or from Amazon.com -- http://amzn.to/UGYkZ5

No comments:

Post a Comment