P5: FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE I: SIMILE, METAPHOR, PERSONIFICATION, APOSTROPHE, METONYMY

I. Figurative language
  A. Figurative language is language which says
    1. less than what you mean, or
    2. more than what you mean, or
    3. the opposite of what you mean, or
    4. something other than what you mean.
  B. We use figurative speech because
    1. it communicates our meaning more vividly and forcefully than literal language
    2. it also says more--adds dimension (depth)
  C. Definition of Figure of Speech ("trope": general term for any use of figurative images)
    1. General Definition:
      a. any way of saying something other than the normal (literal) way

b. some rhetoreticians have classified as many as 250 different tropes

    2. For our purposes:
      a. a way of saying one thing and meaning another (figurative language is language that is meant not to be taken literally)

b. we will focus on just a few

II. Metaphor and Simile
  A. Both are used as a means of comparing things that are essentially unlike
  B. Distinction between the two:
    1. Simile is a comparison that is expressed (explicit) by use of some word or phrase: like, as, than, similar to, resembles, or seems
    2. Metaphor is a comparison that is implied; the figurative term is substituted for or identified with the literal term
  C. Both metaphor and simile speak of one thing (often an abstraction) in terms of something else (usually something concrete and hence sensory). The comparison stated or implied can be represented as a kind of equation if we take the equals sign (=) to mean "resembles." The literal term of the comparison is the subject the poet is basically concerned with. The figurative term is the term in which the poet is "explaining" or picturing his basic subject. Thus
    Literal Term

Often abstract;

Unfamiliar to reader

= Figurative Term

Usually concrete;

Familiar to reader

    Example: When in Act I, Scene 2 of Shakespeare's Hamlet, Hamlet says "O God! God! / How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable / Seem to me all the uses of this world! / Fie on't! ah fie! 'tis an unweeded garden / That grows to seed," we can explain the metaphor as so:
    human experience ("this world") defined by basic physical drives = "an unweeded garden"
 

Langton Hughes         Harlem (727)

 2. What specific denotation has the word “dream”?

One of its denotations is “a condition or achievement that is longed for, or an aspiration.”

 Since the poem does not reveal the contents of the dream, the poem is general in its implication.

What happens to our understanding of it on learning that its author was a black American?

The knowledge that the poet was a black American living in Harlem during the first half of the 20th century helps us understand that the "dream deferred" is specifically the hoped for but delayed realization of full and equal participation of black Americans with whites in the political and economic freedoms supposedly guaranteed by the Constitution. The metaphorical comparison of black frustration to a bomb (metonymically representing a race riot or even armed revolution) is therefore appropriately placed in the tic position.

 

 
    QUESTIONS.
     

Of the six images, five are similes. Which is a metaphor? Discussion

     

Comment on its position and its effectiveness. Discussion

  Simile (like, as, seems, etc.) Literal = Figurative
    Named Term = Named Term
    a dream deferred [put off; postponed] = a raisin in the sun drying up (2-3)
    a dream deferred [put off; postponed] = a sore festering and then running (4-5)
    a dream deferred [put off; postponed] = rotten meat stinking (6)
    a dream deferred [put off; postponed] =

a syrupy sweet crusting and sugaring over ((7-8)

    a dream deferred [put off; postponed]   a heavy load sagging (9-10)
  Metaphor (comparison implied)      
    a dream deferred [put off; postponed]   a bomb exploding (11)
  D. Four forms of metaphor:
    We need carefully to observe how the poet treats the two parts (literal and figurative) of the comparison.
      To allow the figurative term to make its full impression, we need to cooperate with the poet by perceiving all the implications suggested by it;
      we need also to notice how he handles the literal term.
    The distinction in the four forms of metaphor is whether the literal and figurative terms are respectively named.
    First Form: Both figurative and literal terms are named
    In "The widow's Lament in Springtime" (693) Literal term named   Figurative term named
      sorrow = yard
    Second Form: Literal named and figurative is implied
    In "Harlem" Literal term named   Figurative term implied
      deferred dream = bomb exploding
  Application: Robert Frost, "Bereft"
    1 Describe the situation precisely. What time of day and year is it? Where is the speaker? What is happening to the weather? Discussion
    2 To what are the leaves in lines 9-10 compared? Discussion
    3 The word "hissed" (9) is onomatopoetic [use of words that sound like what they mean] How is its effect reinforced in the lines following? Discussion
    4 Though lines 9-10 present the clearest example of the second form of metaphor, there are others. To what is the wind ("it") compared in line 3? Why is the door (4) "restive" and what does this do (figuratively) to the door? To what is the speaker's "life" compared (15)?  Discussion
    5 What is the tone of the poem? How reassuring is the last line? Discussion
      Second form in "Bereft" Literal named = figurative (implied)
      leaves = (snake)
    Third Form: Literal implied, figurative named
    Fourth Form: Literal implied, figurative implied
  Application: Emily Dickinson, "It sifts from leaden sieves"
    1 This poem consists essentially of a series of metaphors having the same literal term identified only as "It." What is "It"?  Discussion
    2 In several of these metaphors the figurative term is named--"alabaster wool" (3), "fleeces" (11), "celestial veil" (12). Most of these are metaphors of the third form in which only the figurative term is named. In two of them, however, the figurative term as well as the literal term is left unnamed (metaphors of the fourth form). To what is "It" compared in lines 1-2? In lines 17-18? Discussion
    3 Comment on the additional metaphorical expressions or complications contained in "leaden sieves" (1), "alabaster wool" (3), "even face" (5), "unbroken forehead" (7), "a summer's empty room" (14), "artisans" (19). Discussion
      Third Form metaphors in "It Sifts from Leaden Sieves" literal (implied)   figurative named
      (2) It (snow) = alabaster wool
      (11) (snow) = fleeces
      (12) (snow) = celestial veil
      Fourth Form metaphors in "It Sifts from Leaden Sieves" Literal (implied)   figurative (implied)
      (1-2) (snow) = (flour) falling from leaden sieves
      (17-18) (snow) = (lace or cloth) around the wrist and ankles
  E. The fourth form is rare; Emily Dickinson's "I like to see it lap the miles" (911) is an extended example--a train is compared to a horse though neither is named:
      Literal (implied) = figurative (implied)
      (train) = (horse)
      laps miles and valleys up;

feeds [takes water] itself at tanks;

peers [with its head- lights] into shanties by the road;

hoots [with its whistle], is punctual;

and stops at its stable [station or roundhouse]

  laps, licks,

feeds, steps,

peers, has ribs, crawls,

complains, chases itself, neighs,

and stops at a stable

III Personification--giving the attributes of a human to an animal, object, or concept
  A. Actually is a subtype of metaphor: an implied comparison in which the vehicle/ figurative term is a human
  B. Examples:
      "Mirror" by Sylvia Plath (692-93)--the mirror speaks and thinks [object]

"To Autumn" by John Keats (724-25)--describes autumn as a harvester (season)

  C. Difference in degree to which we are asked to actually visualize the literal term in human form
    1 In Keat's comparison, we are asked to make a complete identification of autumn with a human
    2 In Plath's, though the mirror speaks and thinks, we continue to visualize it as a mirror
    3 In Frost' "Bereft", the "restive" door remains in appearance a door tugged by the wind
    4 In Browning's reference to "startled little waves" barely perceptible, should not think of waves in human form or having human emotions
  *** NOTE: Be sure to pay attention to the comment at the top of page 732 concerning how various figures of speech blend into each other
  D. Application--Personification in Anne Bradstreet's “The Author to Her Book”

Bradstreet's book The Tenth Muse was published in 1650 without her permission.

    2 The poem is an extended personification addressing her book as a child. What similarities does the speaker find between a child and a book of poems? What does she plan to do now that her child has been put on public display? Discussion
    3. Trace the developing attitudes of the speaker toward the child/book. Why does she instruct the child to deny it has a father?      Discussion
  E. Application--Personification in Maya Angelou’s “The Telephone”
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

    1.

Most home telephones were black before the innovation of a variety of "designer” colors. What are the connotations of the colors to lines 1-3?  Discussion

    2.

Line 4 introduces a simile. Explain how a telephone might resemble a "spinstered aunt" (5). What would such an aunt have to do with the speaker's “needs / and need" (6-7)?               Discussion

    3.

Beginning in line 8, the simile is developed into a personification. To what is the telephone compared? How are its activities a development of the “Aunt" simile? Be sure you understand the denotation of "tats" and "crocheting” (5), "hemming” (12), "darning” (14), and "needle sound" (21).     Discussion

    4.

How does the last line provide a conclusion to the poem?     Discussion

IV Apostrophe--addressing someone absent, dead, or something nonhuman as if that person or thing were present and alive and could reply
  A. Examples:
    1 In A. E. Houseman's "To an Athlete Dying Young" (1060), the speaker apostrophizes a dead runner
    2 In William Blake's "The Tiger" (1030), the poet apostrophizes a tiger
    3 In Keat's "To Autumn" (783), the poet apostrophizes as well as personifies the season.
  B. Personification and apostrophe
    1 Give immediacy and life to language
    2 But do not require great imaginative power (particularly apostrophe) and can be found even in mediocre and bad poetry
    3 We need to distinguish their effective use and their merely conventional use
  Application: "Bright Star," John Keats
    1 The speaker tongs to be as "steadfast" (1) as the star, yet lines 2-8 express his wish to be unlike the star in important ways. What are the qualities of the star that he would not want to emulate? Why would these be wrong for him in his situation? Discussion
    2 Explore the apparent contradictions in the phrase "sweet unrest" (12). How do they anticipate the final line? Discussion
    3 The speaker repeats "still" (13). What relevant denotations does the word evoke, and how does the repetition add intensity and meaning to this apostrophe? Discussion
    4 Why is an apostrophe more effective here than a description of the star that does not address it? Discussion
V. Synecdoche (use of part for the whole) and Metonymy (use of something closely related for the thing actually meant)
  A. Both substitute some significant detail or aspect of an experience for the experience itself
  B. Examples
    1 metonymy--Randall (645): "those guns will fire" subbed for "the police will fire the guns"
    2 In Kay (678), "catalogues of domes" subbed for enough domed buildings to fill a catalogue
    3 In A. E. Houseman's "Terrence, This Is Stupid Stuff" (649),
      a. synecdoche: "Malt does more than Milton can / to justify God's way to man," malt subbed for beer or ale;
      b. metonymy: Look into the pewter pot / to see the world as the world is not,"
        (1) pot subbed for ale

(2) world subbed for human life and the conditions under which it is lived

    4 In Robert Frost's "Out, Out--" (773) metonymy: held up hand "as if to keep / the life from spilling," life subbed for blood
  C. Synecdoches and metonymies gain vividness, meaning, or compactness
  D. Dead vs. fresh figures of speech
    1 like many other figures, some synecdoches and metonymies may have become embedded in our language and no longer strike us as being fresh
        "redhead" for red-haired person

"hands" for manual laborers

"tongues" for languages

"dead metaphors" for all dead (trite or stale, hence not fresh or alive) tropes

    2 Since synecdoche and metonymy are so similar, we will refer to both figures as Metonymy: any trope in which a part or something closely related is substituted for the thing literally meant
VI Summary--figurative language (tropes) is often more effective than direct literal) language
  A. Figurative language affords us imaginative pleasure.
  B. Figurative language adds imagery to verse, makes the abstract concrete, makes poetry more sensusous
  C. Figurative language adds emotional intensity to what is otherwise a merely informative statement and conveys an attitude along with the statement
  D. Figurative language compacts language, says much in few words
    1 Example: excerpt from Macbeth (780) in which Shakespeare compares life to a candle
      a. it begins and ends in darkness

b. while it burns, it gives off light and energy, is active and colorful

c. it gradually consumes itself, gets shorter and shorter

d. it can be snuffed out at any moment

e. it is brief at best, burning for only a short duration

    2 Good use of figurative language is capable of expressing n compact metaphorical terms certain truths about life that might require dozens of words to state in literal terms.
  E. When interpreting figurative language, one always risks misinterpretation, but it is a risk well worth taking, for the figurative language will provide depth and pleasure to our understanding poetry

                                                                PRACTICE!