I posted this entry on my personal blog, but it’s relevant here, too. Enjoy!
Metaphor, Persona and Hope
A metaphor (or figurative comparison) in which one of the terms (the tenor) can’t be readily distinguished from the other (the vehicle). The concept of absolute metaphor is often associated with the writings of certain modernist poets, including Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot.
A term popularized by the philosopher Hans Blumenberg in Paradigmen zu einer Metaphorologie (1960)
- “The content of an absolute metaphor cannot be stated explicitly, that is, without using the metaphorical wording. In these cases, the metaphor is the only means of expressing the information contained in it.”
(Ulrich Baltzer, “The Cooperative Principle and the Speaker’s Belief in Conversational Implicatures,” in Saying, Meaning, Implicating, ed. by G. Meggle and C. Plunze. Leipziger Universitätsverlag, 2003)
- “The absolute metaphor would be one in which the original situation, the experience which should call to mind the comparison, no longer appears. A concrete situation fades behind a weight of metaphorical associations: it is as though a noun were lost behind its attributive adjectives . . .. An extreme subjectivity would result here, where the poet’s metaphors (or epithets) replace the actual existing situation or object; the metaphor would then exist in its own right as an image, often juxtaposed with other images to create a world remote from the real. The metaphor (or image) becomes expressive rather than imitative, existing as a powerful, autonomous figure of speech from which radiate a host of evocative meanings. An example often quoted here is the last line from Guillaume Apollinaire’s ‘Zone’ . . . where the link between sun and cut throat is indeed tenuous, and it is for the reader to grasp the point of comparison–the idea of termination, finality, sunset, redness and blood.”
(R. S. Furness, Expressionism. Routledge, 1973)Also Known As: antimetaphor, paralogical metaphor
A comparison between two unlike things that continues throughout a series of sentences in a paragraph or lines in a poem.
- Susan Orlean’s Extended Metaphor: “Super-Duper”
- Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Metaphor
- What Is a Metaphor?
Examples and Observations:
- Emily Dickinson’s Extended Metaphor: Hope as a “Little Bird”
“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,
“And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
“I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.”
A favorite technique I use is persona:
persona, plural personae, in literature, the person who is understood to be speaking (or thinking or writing) a particular work. The persona is almost invariably distinct from the author; it is the voice chosen by the author for a particular artistic purpose. The persona may be a character in the work or merely an unnamed narrator; but, insofar as the manner and style of expression in the work exhibit taste, prejudice, emotion, or other characteristics of a human personality, the work may be said to be in the voice of a persona.
The term derives from the Latin persona, meaning an actor’s mask, and is thus etymologically related to the term dramatis personae, designating the characters in a drama.
In many cases, especially in Poems from the Battlefield, the persona–the narrator–is a person from a different time, in this case, the American Civil War. However, the persona also presents global metaphors reflecting the state, limitations and experiences of humankind. Many of the metaphors used in the book were birthed by my own experiences, but by the time the poem ends, the metaphor has become more important than anything biographical. Additionally, I use the extended metaphor to strengthen imagery, one of the most important elements of poetry.
Some of my most recent work lacks imagery, though the metaphors are absolute and/or extended. I don’t consider these great poems. In fact, they are almost drafts, but I most likely won’t revise them because they reflect my thoughts at the time–the way I have processed events which are far bigger than the ones I have experienced.
When I explain my poetry, it is usually in terms of synthesis, of forming links and making sense of the world, of my thoughts, of the larger meaning, in an artistic attempt to reach an understanding that matches my world view, which is not limited to me as an individual. As I explained in a previous post, everything is connected, nothing exists in a vacuum, and neither do we.
My experiences are human experiences; therefore, the metaphors are more important than whatever part of my life comes through in the poem. In fact, many of my poems don’t relay personal experiences at all, or the experiences are so far removed from the literal that they aren’t really relevant.
I suppose some shrinks could claim I write and think this way to avoid confronting my own difficult history, that I am making excuses to avoid taking responsibility for secretly admitting to something I’ve done or something I just feel guilty about. I would respond (at least here, because I would probably be too enraged to think on my feet) that they know nothing about the artistic process. I’ve spent enough years in therapy processing my past in the way that makes sense to them. Writing is my personal process, different from but equal to theirs, and I truly resent anyone making judgments on my process which is part of my identity. Artists are largely misunderstood when the audience chooses limited thinking over the creative.
I’m going to leave this post on a poetic note:
might be feathers,
is made of wings.