Tropes--In classical rhetoric, a figure of speech involving a "turn"
or change of sense--the use of
a word in a sense other than its literal one--figures of comparison
(metaphor, simile) as well as
We organize according to resemblances. Our need to compare is
psychological and emotional.
Poets try not only to relate to what is familiar, but they try
to discover resemblances that no one
had noticed before. It's true, we feel, when coming on a good
comparison, It's true, but I never
Poets express discoveries of likenesses through figures of speech
like simile and metaphor.
Some people think figures of speech are unnatural but language
itself is nothing but a figure of
speech We use a word when we mean a thing.
Simile is Latin word for "like." Metaphor is from the Greek word for "transfer"; in using it we
transfer to one thing the name of something else we associate
with it, as when we say "the heart
of a cruel man is a stone" or that "a grumpy man is a bear."
Often when we speak in metaphor we are thinking in simile: That
boxer is a bull in the ring. No
question of a real bull.
Metaphor, since unqualified, is usually stronger than simile.
More concentrated, hits with
When we say A is like B or A is B we are trying to show in a fresh
and vivid way something
about the nature of A. A good figure often jolts, surprises into
a pleasant shock of recognition.
When John Clare writes:
In gentle waves the river heaves
That sways like boats the lily-leaves...
we may feel that the floating leaves are so much like little boats
that the point is hardly worth
expressing. Also, with Lowell's:
A seal swims like a poodle through the sheet of blinding salt...
The head of a seal may seem too much like a poodle. Brewster Ghislin
is being bolder, eerier:
Slant of their fins asway like a wing speeding
And heads rising blunt like a feeding swallow's
They circle. . . .
On the other hand the two things compared may be so far apart
that we fail to see the point.
Nothing is easier than to be "original" in one's metaphors. The
trick is to be original and true to
experience. One can say anything is like anything. There are no
two things in the world, said
Cicero, that cannot be compared.
When a writer is using an A is like B formula to make a comparison
and either element distorts
the other, or contradicts the other, he might haveforced a mixed
metaphor. If you say,
"People who skate on thin ice are likely to find themselves in
hot water," you mix metaphors.
Mixed metaphors are like double exposures in photography. Some
may be deliberate, some
may be accidentally good. Most are plain failures, with comic
results, ugly or blurred.
Images are not felt as mixed when the poet makes a clean break
with one before going on to
another. Robert Burns's poem:
O my love's like a red, red rose
That's newly sprung in June;
O my love's like the melody
That's sweetly played in tune.
If he'd said "My love is like a red, red rose that sings a merry
tune," we might have resisted