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Poetry & The Power of Metaphor

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Old 07-06-2009, 01:02 AM
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Default Poetry & The Power of Metaphor


Whenever I am writing a poem, I am still always tempted to add a line or two encapsulating what I am trying to say.

This is the amateur that still resides in me; the fear that someone will read a piece of mine and say "it sounds nice, it's evocative, but what does it mean?" I constantly need to remind myself that a certain responsibility resides in the reader. I believe the true treasure of reading any great work of literature is explicating the implicit.

This is why I always keep this quote by Ezra Pound close by:

The artist seeks out the luminous detail and presents it. He does not comment.
But how can you achieve saying something without actually saying it? Ezra Pound seems to be suggesting in this quote in being faithful to the image. But the keyword in this quote is "luminous detail." How do you make a detail luminous? The first and most powerful tool is association through metaphor and simile.

I am going to focus solely on metaphor, but a simile can be just as powerful. The underlying mechanics of metaphor are sometimes ignored, and thus their true power of it are forgotten. Here is an example of powerful use of metaphor, again by Ezra Pound:

the apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
What exactly is going on here? A formula is being used.

Two completely distinct images are being connected through metaphor but it is not a simple A = B equation. Pound is taking only certain properties from the image of "black bough" and associating them to faces in a crowd. This linking is
actually making properties more "luminous" than others.

Furthermore, the two clauses aren't saying much of anything by themselves. They are just two images. Pound leaves the reader to imagine each image and build a composite of the two. Suddenly these faces are not just ghost-like images passing by; they now share some attributes of the second image: they are bleak, burdened by something, and residing somewhere that is even bleaker.

Of course this is just my interpretation, but that is what makes metaphor so powerful and dialectic.

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Last edited by Danny; 07-06-2009 at 01:04 AM..
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Old 07-07-2009, 08:33 AM
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Maybe I'd feel differently if I read the entire poem cited, but these two lines by Ezra Pound are precisely the kind of poetry that leaves me cold. I simply don't understand what he's talking about. Believe me, I am not stupid, and I do appreciate a lot of poetry that's considered good poetry, even classic.But some poetry seems like it's using metaphor just for the sake of metaphor.
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Old 07-07-2009, 11:49 AM
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Originally Posted by Mars46 View Post
Maybe I'd feel differently if I read the entire poem cited, but these two lines by Ezra Pound are precisely the kind of poetry that leaves me cold. I simply don't understand what he's talking about. Believe me, I am not stupid, and I do appreciate a lot of poetry that's considered good poetry, even classic.But some poetry seems like it's using metaphor just for the sake of metaphor.
Remember that the example it taken completely out of the context of the poem, I think that is important to note. I also personally think it is a wonderful example of metaphor.

But you make a good point, metaphor could be abused and used poorly. For instance, the mixing of metaphors can be extremely confusing and unintentionally absurd.
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Old 07-28-2009, 07:31 PM
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Mark Doty, who I have the opportunity to study under this upcoming semester, has an amazing article on the exact same metaphor I've posted by Pound. It is humbling to note how clearly and more brilliantly he talks about metaphor:

The article can be found here:

http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19705

the further apart the elements within a figure are, the greater the tension and the greater the energy the metaphor has. We've all seen student poems where something is compared to something very similar. There's not that much energy. The more these things do not have in common—at least on the surface—the greater the level of tension, the greater the sense of cognitive dissolution or dissonance for the reader. We have to work in the poem, and we feel something happen...
In another article, he writes about the power of metaphor to intrigue the poet:

The goal here is inquiry, the attempt to get at what it is that's so interesting about what's struck me. Because it isn't just beauty; the world is full of lovely things and that in itself wouldn't compel me to write. There's something else, some gravity or charge to this image that makes me need to investigate it.
And the relation to telling by showing:

Like all descriptions, they reflect the psychic state of the observer; they aren't "neutral," though they might pretend to be, but instead suggest a point of view, a stance toward what is being seen.
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Old 07-29-2009, 06:20 AM
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Originally Posted by Danny View Post
Remember that the example it taken completely out of the context of the poem, I think that is important to note.
I've always liked those two lines by Pound. But I thought that was the whole of the poem. Is there more?
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Old 07-31-2009, 02:01 PM
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Originally Posted by HoiLei View Post
I've always liked those two lines by Pound. But I thought that was the whole of the poem. Is there more?
No, its the whole poem. I am trying to figure out what I was talking about or what I was on at the time of posting that haha, there is the title which I didn't include in my original post. Maybe that?
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Old 07-31-2009, 03:59 PM
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The title is something like "lines from the Paris Metro", I think.
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