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Metaphor: Its Power and Uses

It is a commonplace of elementary-school studies that a metaphor is "a figure of speech, an implied analogy in which one thing is imaginatively compared to or identified with another, dissimilar thing" (Morner and Rausch 131). But as Morner and Rausch explain, metaphors are not necessarily isolated to specific comparisons. Rather, a metaphor may be extended, or "sustained throughout the work and function[] as a controlling image" (132). MacArthur refines the definition even further, noting that metaphor, as a figure of speech, is specifically not literal (653). Metaphorical intent and form lend power to poetic diction, and such diction can be found not only in verse but also in drama and prose. Obviously, metaphor is embedded in mimesis, or imitation, since art that imitates life or behavior cannot, however precise it may be, be the literal thing. Poetic diction may, however, make the literal thing--whether thought, feeling, or image--meaningful and understandable in a way that a literal articulation cannot. For example:

Literal: He was rich, but he was not happy. Now he is dead.

however fortunate, before he dies (Eur. 27).

The first and second statements are comparable, but the second has a force of irony that goes beyond the assertion of sadness in the first. To assert that a particular dead rich man was not happy has rather less power than to suggest that happiness eludes all men who have ever lived and to ask how much worse death could be. The actual words used in the second statement are not particularly unusual, but the way in which the words are organized amounts to what Aristotle calls an "unfamiliar usage," which he says lends dignity to diction and "raise[s it] above the everyday level" (Aristotle 63). The power of such usage is its metaphorical pattern. It compels the reader to think beyond the instance of death or even the presumed sadness of one man's life and to contemplate more generally the paradox of human exp...

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Metaphor: Its Power and Uses. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 22:57, June 24, 2019, from