Sunday, January 01, 2012

When a Rose Is Not a Rose



Figurative language, simile or metaphor for instance,  often becomes a beginner’s roadblock to enjoying poetry.  Perhaps you understand the concept of a simile, saying one thing is like something else, such as, “My love is like a red, red rose.”  But maybe you aren’t quite sure how love, an abstract concept most easily viewed through the actions people take, can be like a physical object, the rose.

It seems that figurative language is often used to compare two disparate things.  What you need is a bit of the mathematician’s logic here, a way to find a common denominator.  We know that love isn’t red, that it isn’t physical and so it can’t share any of the rose’s physical attributes.  Or can it?  What is there about the rose that differentiates it from other flowers?  Why didn’t Burns write about carnations?  Might it be the rose’s thorns?  Could love have virtual thorns, something that hurts us in spite of its beauty? 

There may be many other explanations, but coming up with a theory and showing the logic for your conclusion is always going to lend weight to your hypothesis. 

What about another device of figurative language, the symbol.  Art has always been laden with symbols.  Some are well known.  Ravens are thought to be omens of death.  Dogs are considered to indicate fidelity or loyalty.  Although there are often clues, it is sometimes up to the reader to decide what things stand for.  The important starting point is to realize that you can’t take everything within a poem at its face value; you have to search out what might be symbolic objects.

Poetry is one aspect of creative writing, and it has been said that creative writing requires creative reading.  To appreciate poetry, you can’t be a mere spectator, you must wade in up to your knees, accept the passed baton, and then my friend...run with it.

1 comment:

David Blaine said...

OK, a P.S. here. The simile discussed above, from a poem by Robert Burns, is comparing the beauty of a rose to the beauty of "his love," the speaker's lover, not the abstract concept of love. It most likely had nothing to do with thorns or pain. The hypothesis I wove in is intended to show that there are layers of meaning in poems, that poets may subconsciously write them in, even when they don't mean to, and that if you can show a logical reason to support your ideas, it at least shows you're thinking.

The Warren Report says Kennedy was killed by a lone gunman, but that doesn't stop people from speculating about conspiracy, even though it's almost fifty years in the past.