“Touched by the Light of the Real”: A Note on Metaphor in the Poetry of B.H. Fairchild

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N.S. Thompson

“Touched by the Light of the Real”:

A Note on Metaphor in the Poetry of B.H. Fairchild



      And you will always need [tropes] because you hunger always for things seen in the light of everything else, and the light is endless
             — “The Memory Palace”

      Thought is the mind minding, poetry the mind embodied
             —“Wittgenstein, Dying”

A metaphor is a rhetorical trope that helps to make a description or an image vivid in the mind of the reader or listener. Most usually it takes the form of a comparison: A is like B, where—from I.A. Richards (1937) onwards—the referent A is called the tenor and the comparison B is known as the vehicle. Alternative terms are “ground” (tenor) and “figure” (vehicle). Usually, in its simplest form, the comparison is made on the basis of commonly held identities. In saying that Hercules or other heroic figure from mythology possessed a lion’s strength it is taken as read that the reader knows that the lion is a byword for strength and ferocity. If the reader happens not to know what a lion is, then the aim of the metaphor is thwarted. In this case, the metaphor also works by being succinct. It will be understood that—again assuming a common ground of knowledge—that there is no need to mention the strength of a lion, so we can simply say that, in battle, Hercules was a lion. The combined image of Hercules and the lion is compact and vivid, especially if we have seen a lion in action. Obviously Hercules is not a lion, but in literature (and in everyday speech) it is understood that the statement is one of similarity, not perfect identity.
  But literature often wants to go beyond the obvious and is keen not to fall into the well-worn paths of cliché. If we want vividness, then we continually have to be inventive. Thus we find that metaphors are often made between strikingly different areas of knowledge, experience or concept. It is also now recognized that metaphors are almost endemic in language and are not simply a rhetorical ornament. Nevertheless, they have been treated as such, although this will most likely change the more linguistic thought filters down. If they are explicatory rather than ornamental this is perhaps best illustrated when the literature happens to be mythological or, in some way, dealing with a . . .
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