Posted by: jeannineatkins | August 30, 2013

Metaphors

Sometimes I wish metaphors weren’t often taught as their own unit in elementary school. It makes them seem sort of precious, like a necklace one would only wear on Very Important Occasions. Or it can make them seem crafty: Hey, anyone can do this! Just draw a line between two rows of words.

Of course anyone can do this and have fun while they’re at it. It’s never wrong to amuse oneself with language. But what bothers me is what such a linking game may leave out. Some of us working with metaphors are looking beyond whimsy or fancy to convey ways that disparate things or ideas find common ground. We don’t go on metaphor hunts waving nets or pincers, but rather quietly stay alert for flickers of meaning in the shadows.

The best metaphors surprise us the way we hope they’ll surprise readers. I might go about my day with something in the back of my mind, then when I read, see, or hear something altogether different, what’s in my mind’s corners and what’s front and center collide into something new. Or maybe something catches my attention, and in asking myself why the once-ordinary image brightens or haunts, I glimpse a link. The connections deepen in the triangle between what happened, my snagged attention, and my inquiry about why this might matter.

Sometimes what we look at takes the shape or color of our obsessions, which is why anyone writing about an oak tree, chrysanthemum, or the ocean will write something different than anyone else, if they’re really paying attention. This leap from ourselves to what we behold is like the one in which we find ourselves in another’s story, perhaps an old tale or myth, whose flexibility to take many forms is one reason it’s stayed around.

Most of us work hard to keep things in order. We try to separate joy and sorrow, life and loss, going after one and doing our best to dodge the other. But when these wash together or collide, there’s nothing more we can do. We remember that most joy and sorrow has strands of the other twisted through. When fragile dams break, we can drop our aching arms and stop building them. And maybe spot strange beauty.

For more Poetry Friday posts, please visit the always inspiring Tara at A Teaching Life.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. Glorious and deep as ever.

  2. What Sarah said. 🙂

    SO many brilliant thoughts:

    “Sometimes what we look at takes the shape or color of our obsessions”

    “We remember that most joy and sorrow has strands of the other twisted through.”

    “The best metaphors surprise us the way we hope they’ll surprise readers.”

    How I love your poems, and your metaphoric prose . . .

    • Thank you. I’m so lucky to have you and Sarah cheering on my words.

  3. I don’t think I can live without metaphors. Your last two lines struck me the most:
    When fragile dams break, we can drop our aching arms and stop building them. And maybe spot strange beauty.
    – gorgeous lines. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

    • Your comment about not being able to live without metaphors made me smile. And I know what you mean. Thanks for all you do for poetry!

  4. I like the triangle of connections you mentioned, Jeannine, the event, being alert, and questioning-all of importance in life’s learning, and then the metaphor sometimes comes in. Love your thoughtful post as always.

    • Linda, I always appreciate your thoughtfulness, too. Thank you.

  5. Jeannine – you write beautifully! I loved your Deepening last week and your post this week as well. I loved this, especially, “but rather quietly stay alert for flickers of meaning in the shadows.”

    • Thank you, B.J., for reading and commenting. I appreciate it!

  6. This is just beautiful. I love “…but rather quietly stay alert for flickers of meaning in the shadows.” Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom about how elusive a meaningful metaphor can be.

    • You’re very kind. I’m glad you found it meaningful in some way.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: