Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare’

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Poetry Sunday: Metaphor and Simile, Tools of the Trade

April 29, 2012

Poetry can serve many purposes with the emotions and meanings it conveys.  Some are sad, while others are happy.  Some take us deep into thought while others make us smile at some little point we’ve overlooked.  The point is poetry has a story to tell.  It is the poet’s task to tell the story in a way the reader understands.  This is where metaphor and simile lend a hand.

Though often confused, the two are quite different.  For example, to explain it with a metaphor, one might say, “simile is metaphor with an attitude,” while stating it as a simile, it might read, “Metaphor is like simile.”  In the first case, it states the two things are the same, in a point of view, in the second case, it states they are similar in general.

Of course neither is limited to poetry, though that is where they take up residence most of the time.  One of the most famous metaphors of all time comes from Shakespeare’s play As You Like It[i],

“All the world’s a stage.”

We know the world is not literally a stage but we treat it as if it were by our actions.  In this case, metaphor’s exaggeration helps us understand the

William Shakespeare

point.  Sometimes, such exaggeration gets in the way of understanding.  It makes no sense to say, “He found his way through the maze, after all, all mice are elephants.”  Showing the elephants and mice are the same is just too large a leap.  This is where simile takes over.

Using a simile to compare, you could write the prior statement as “Elephant like, the mouse remembered his way through the maze.”  The simile counts on us knowing elephants have good memories.  It shows mice are similar to elephants in that way.  However, without knowing the point about elephants, the simile has no meaning to the reader.  Simile counts on prior knowledge, metaphor tends to explain itself.  Returning to the Shakespeare quote, it goes on to tell us just how the world is a stage:

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances.”

In his metaphor, Shakespeare explains what he means by his statement about the world being a stage.  Even without knowledge of what the stage actually refers too, we understand his meaning.    We can see his point and accept the whole of the world as a stage.  To state the same thing in a simile, you could write:

“Like actors on a stage, people come and go from our lives.”

Somehow, it just does not have the same impact.  In this case, to understand it, we need to know actors enter and leave the stage.  Shakespeare’s metaphor shows us, without knowing anything about actors or stages.  It is up to the poet to know when to use which form of allegory, it is up the reader to judge the poet’s success.

In poetry, similes are somewhat limited to a direct statement in a stanza within a line or two.  Metaphors can do the same but the poem as a whole can act as a metaphor.  In my poem Kite, I use metaphors throughout to describe the attachments in a relationship but the poem as a whole serves as a metaphor on relationships.

With the fairest of breezes,
off I go!  I take to flight.
A silken twine holds me fast
looking back, it leads to you.

You, only you hold the twine,
I rise further to the sky
until no sight of you’s left,
still, the twine holds me to you.

Drunkenly I ride the breeze
knowing that you set my course.
I reach for the high-up clouds
and then strain against your grasp.

Soon whipping winds have me caught,
and they sing upon the twine.
A song we both hear and know,
a sorrowful, wailing song.

Damage done – the string does part
and I flail within a cloud,
leaving you there, holding twine.
Stringy, stretched, useless twine.

You stand there, left wondering |
and I’m lost within the sky.
The twine floats back, back to you
and I’m numb without it there.

Away I fall lost to you
as I crash upon some tree,
leaving you with tangled twine –
the folly of flying kites.

The silken twine is the connection between two people in a relationship.  The kite serves as one person and the kite flyer serves as the other.  Wind acts as the turmoil couples encounter that pulls on the kite string.  Then the whole of kite flying serves as the whole of a failed relationship.  Unlike Shakespeare, I did not explain my metaphoric connections in the poem, as most people will see the links to their own relationships.  That is the great thing about being a poet; we get to make the choice.

Similes are more for simple comparisons.  It is an “A is like B” sort of thing.  For example, in my poem June Bug, I compare bugs getting too close to a light to Icarus.

On a starless night filled with haze
a porch light shines alone.
A yellow-pale reflects on dust
some breath of wind has blown.

And there I sit upon a swing
that moans its off-key sound.
Soon I’m joined by a million wings
that charge this light they’ve found.

They fly a path that’s drunkard-straight
imbibing on the light.
They dare to get but just so close
then escape away with fright.

The light has magic to a point
as they dart and flit around.
But, if to close they dare approach
like Icarus they find ground.

So there I sit and watch the sight
as they swarm and dance in air.
with too much fuss they chase the night
inspired by a porch light’s glare.

Of course, you need to know the mythical story of Icarus for the reference to work, so again, simile counts on prior knowledge, as explaining that myth is a poem all unto itself.  Did you see the direct metaphor I used?  There is one, but in this case, it is what I call a moronic metaphor as it directly disputes itself.  That is a hint by the way.

So both metaphor and simile have a fundamental role in poetry.  They are tools in the poet’s toolbox.  The poet needs to understand when to use which one; the reader needs to know how to connect the dots.   They both add depth to poetry specifically and all forms of communication in general.  Comparison is the way we understand things and that is exactly what they do, they compare.

 

On a side note:  Kite is an example of blank verse.  Blank verse will be the topic of next week’s post.  If you are not familiar with blank verse, read it over again knowing there is something more to it that free verse.  See if you pick up its natural cadence. 


[i] Shakespeare, William. “As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7.” The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. The Tech, MIT. Web. 29 Apr. 2012. <http://shakespeare.mit.edu/asyoulikeit/full.html>.

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Poetry Sunday – Sonnets, A Bit Harder but Well Worth the Effort

April 1, 2012

Sonnets are one of the harder forms of poetry to master.  To make matters even more muddled, there are many forms of sonnets.  In the United States, when we think of sonnets, it is the English, otherwise known as the Shakespearean, form we think of.  Other popular sonnet styles are Italian, Occitan, Spenserian, Modern, and many others.

I like Shakespearean most, but when I write them, I modify the style a bit.  A classic Shakespearean sonnet uses three quatrains and a couplet with a rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG and a meter in the iambic pentameter style.  To put that into English, each stanza rhymes every other line and no two stanzas use the same rhyming words as other stanzas.  Further, each line is ten syllables long in most cases with a natural strong stress on the even syllables.  This is where the word foot comes in.

Iambic means the syllables of a line are grouped in pairs with the stronger stress on the end syllable.  One of the best examples comes from one the Bard’s plays:

“To be, or not to be, that is the question:[i]

It is hard to read lines like this from Hamlet in anything other than its Iambic form.  The words are naturally stressed on the even syllables.  With the stressed syllables emphasized, it looks like this:

 “To be, or not to be, that is the question:”

Remember, the line is from his play and in his plays the lines do not always contain the right number of syllables. Such is the case with the example, but it does illustrate extremely well the proper use of iambic meter.

The syllable group is called a foot.  Some groups have two syllables, and some have three or more. In the Shakespearean Sonnet’s case, there are ten syllables making up five iambic pairs or five feet. The word for five feet in a line is pentameter and when the two work together it is called iambic pentameter.

While this is not the technical definition, it works for a general understanding of how Shakespearean Sonnets work.  Here is one of William Shakespeare’s famous examples, simply titled Sonnet 18:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

 

You can see Uncle Bill’s (Shakespeare is every poet’s good ol’ Uncle Bill) use of the rhyme scheme and meter.  We must give deference to the changes in language since then that makes the rhymes seem forced in some cases.

Another writing device used in most sonnet forms is the “turn,” or volta, as poets like to call it.  By the way, volta means time or turn in Italian.  This turn is a distinct change in the thought and flow of the poem.  While it is not a spelled out rule, many poets place the turn in the third quatrain (stanza) and return from the change in the ending couplet.  Shakespeare placed his volta at the couplet and so do I.  It really is up to the poet.

While Shakespeare is one of the true masters of the form, I find sticking to a constant meter (iambic pentameter for instance) does not blend well with modern though and speech patterns.  I like to break the quatrain into couplets with the first line having four feet and the last having three.  It just reads easier to me and gives the work a more song-like quality.  Here is one of my sonnets for example:

The Day I Found You

We sat upon a swing that day
and made the world our own
We talked with more than words could say
with seeds our thoughts had sown

For love began upon that swing
our souls became as one
For us the world had joys to bring
through this life that we’ve run

I look back now, that day I see
and know I found my soul
It’s from life’s dark you set me free
and with your love, made whole

I love you for you, but really much more
you taught me to love, you opened love’s door

So, why not take out your pen and give a sonnet a try.  It is the first day of National Poetry Month after all!  Pick a classic style or modify one and I did.  It is up to you.  The point is to create something that is uniquely you, something that expresses your feelings and thoughts.  I know some of you are thinking “eeew – I can’t write a mushy love poem.”  The good news is sonnets can be about anything, it is the style of the poem, no its subject matter, for example:

What Stars Know

The far off lights that paint the sky
as dark does veil the Phoebus stage
and the crescent moon’s winking eye
do know the truth of wars we wage

For land, for God, for things profound
we give as reasons why we fight
but orbs up high retort the sound
of angry words proclaiming right

Tis death and pain that man does sow
upon this home, our home – the earth
the cost exceeds what we can know
are we so vain to set life’s worth?

To learn from stars is what we must do
Live and let live is the path that’s true

 Sonnets are harder to write, that is certain.  Once you do, you will understand the fun of it.  The rules make the game fun, but like with any game you must practice before you become good at it.  Write well, write often!


[i] “Hamlet.” – Act 3, Scene 1 by William Shakespeare. Web. 01 Apr. 2012.
<http://www.shakespeare-literature.com/Hamlet/8.html>.

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