chasing the soul (novapsyche) wrote in 13_blackbirds,
chasing the soul

Ongoing assignment: revision

Yesterday we thought about words, the literal stuff that poems are made of. Today, I ask you to consider the image and its relations, the symbol and figures of speech.

Imagery refers to poetic devices (words or phrases) that appeal to the reader's senses. Visual imagery is most common, with auditory, tactile, and gustatory not too far behind. The olfactory sense is the least evoked of the standard five senses (which is a shame, as the sense of smell is one of the most immediate of the human register--a scent sniffed today can bring decades-old memories to the forefront). Other senses that can be elicited are those of heat and cold, time and motion.

"Concrete words denote that which can be perceived by the senses, and the vividness of a poem's language resides primarily in the way it uses imagery, sensory details denoting specific details of experience." (Poetry, p. 13)

"We are slower with sound than with sight[.]" (The Life of Poetry, p. 152)

"Onomatopoeia refers to individual words like 'splash' or 'thud' whose meanings are closely related to their sounds. Auditory imagery in a poem can often be enhanced by the use of onomatopoetic words. In some cases, however, a whole line can be called onomatopoetic, even if it contains no single word that uses the device." -- (Poetry, p. 13)

"[T]he pun [is] the use of one word to imply the additional meaning of a similar-sounding word (the formal term is paranomasia)." (Poetry, p. 14)

"Detail suggests empirical evidence; it makes the text plausible." (The Flexible Lyric, p. 56)

"[R]ationality was the smokescreen of the powerful. The surreal, to many of us, seemed the only way to approximate the real." (Walking Light, p. 196)

"[T]he best poets, as usual, remembered that in order to gain our deepest assent they had to engage us with language that went beyond wild invention and correct sentiment." (Walking Light, p. 197)

"[T]he poem grows by the means of its images[.]" (The Life of Poetry, p. 35)

"The image is the dramatic element of poetry. [...] In the image, a relationship of language acts out its meaning." (The Life of Poetry, p. 39)

"'The image,' says C. Day Lewis in The Poetic Image, 'is a method of asserting or reasserting spiritual control over the material.'" (The Life of Poetry, p. 39)

"We have pointed out the growing colorlessness of American speech; the accepted spoken language has trimmed itself of images, diluted the figures, flattened the contours of old-country borrowings." (The Life of Poetry, p. 123)

"Truth is, according to Gibbs, not a stream that flows from a source, but an agreement of components. In a poem, these components are, not the words or images, but the relations between the words and the images." (The Life of Poetry, p. 167)

Symbol, etymologically speaking, means 'thrown together'--it is the result of two (or more) disparate things brought into relief through juxtaposition.

"symbol: A word or an image that signifies something other than what it represents and that even when denoting a physical limited thing carries enlarging connotations, so that it has the reality, vivid yet ambiguous, the emotional power, and the suggestiveness of a compelling dream or an archetypal myth. A symbol in poetry differs radically from a symbol in mathematics or one of the kindred sciences. In these it is a definite sign for something definite. In poetry it is also a sign, but, because of its multiple meanings and the feelings associated with them, points to something that cannot be precisely defined. It may be regarded as a metaphor with a rich but indefinite tenor." (Poetry Handbook, p. 178)

"A symbol, then, is any concrete thing or action in a poem that implies a meaning beyond its literal sense. Many of these things or actions are called traditional symbols, that is, symbols that hold roughly the same meanings for members of a given society. [...] A private symbol is one that has acquired certain meanings from a single poet's repeated use of it. Some visionary poets like William Blake have devised complicated private symbolic systems, a sort of alternative mythology, and understanding the full import of these symbols becomes primarily the task of the specialist. . . . There are many modern poems that remain so enigmatic that readers have consistently returned to them looking for new interpretations. [...] Such American attempts at Symbolist experiments such as Wallace Stevens' 'Anecdote of the Jar' or 'The Emperor of Ice-Cream' continue to perplex and fascinate readers, particularly those who are versed in recent schools of interpretation which focus on the indeterminacy of a poetic text." (Poetry, p. 18)

"[S]ymbols [...] were expressions of ideas." (The Life of Poetry, p. 38)

"Emerson said that language was fossil poetry[.]" (The Life of Poetry, p. 166)

Tropes (figures of speech) utilize images and symbols to show relationships between (unlike) things.

"At all costs, we must try not to be literalists of the literal." (Walking Light, p. 189)

"figurative language: That in which the literal meaning of words is disregarded in order to show or imply a relationship between diverse things. The relationship is usually one of direct or implied resemblance but may emphasize contrast. Such language is made up of figures of speech. These are also called tropes. Traditional rhetoric included a number of tropes. Contemporary criticism of poetry is concerned chiefly with metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony." (Poetry Handbook, p. 56)

"metaphor: Language that implies an relationship, of which similarity is a significant feature, between two things and so changes our apprehension of either or both. Aristotle said that for the poet 'the greatest thing by far is to have a command of metaphor. This alone cannot be imparted by another; it is the mark of genius, for to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblances.' After upwards of two thousand years his view is firmly held. [...] The vehicle is the figure that carries the weight of the comparison. The subject to which it refers is called the tenor." (Poetry Handbook, pp. 84-85)

"Simile is more explicit than metaphor and therefore less evocative." (Poetry Handbook, p. 88)

"Allegory, in which the tenor is unexpressed and the vehicle often elaborate, has been called an extended metaphor. It represents one thing in the guise of another, as an abstraction in the guise of a concrete image, a moral or religious discourse under the guise of a narrative about a pilgrimage. The characters in an allegory are apt to be personifications, or abstract vices and virtues represented as persons. This is also called prosopopeia." (Poetry Handbook, p. 88)

"metonymy: The substitution of a word that relates to the thing or person to be named for the name itself. Shakespeare makes such a substitution for 'sovereign' when he writes, 'The crown will find an heir . . .'. The term metonymy is sometimes used to include the similar rhetorical device of synecdoche: the naming of a part to mean the whole [such as when] wave stands for the sea." (Poetry Handbook, pp. 89-90)

"Implied metaphor: a metaphor in which either the tenor or vehicle is implied, not stated." (Poetry, p. 15)

A motif is a recurring image or symbol that comes to acquire its own connotations through the movement of a piece. Water is such a motif in T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland".

Works Referenced:

The Flexible Lyric, Ellen Bryant Voigt.
The Life of Poetry, Muriel Rukeyser.
Poetry, Second Edition, R.S. Gwynn.
Poetry Handbook, Fourth Edition, Babette Deutsch.
Walking Light, Stephen Dunn.

I've included the two poems mentioned in the section on symbols, for reference' sake.

The Emperor of Ice-Cream

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Anecdote of the Jar

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion everywhere.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Today's assignment: Peruse your piece and identify the images, symbols and figures of speech. Consider if and how they strengthen the poem or, alternately, how their absence might alter it.
Tags: imagery, metaphor, poems by others, poetic terms, poetry assignments, symbol, tropes
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