Monday, September 8, 2008

A Short Lesson in Metaphor

One way to examine metaphor is to break it down into two distinct elements: tenor and vehicle. I.A. Richards first used these terms, but I think that they are pretty standard in contemporary analysis/criticism. The tenor is the subject of the metaphor, and normally the subject within a sentence in a poem. The vehicle is usually the predicate nominative, and “carries” the subject. If you’re a math person it might be easier to envision the metaphor as an equation:


Eavan Boland’s “Anorexic," found in her Selected Poems, begins with a perfect illustration of this equation with the simple and straightforward metaphor: “My body is a witch.” Here, “body” is the tenor or subject of the metaphor and “witch” is the vehicle, that which carries the subject into wider contexts of connotation and understanding. As you can see in the remainder of the poem, this simple metaphor in the first stanza directs and energizes the piece through the final line. I'm including a section below, but a google search will find the entire poem. Furthermore, a brief but engaging feminist analysis can be found at Outskirts, an online journal.


Eavan Boland

Flesh is heretic.
My body is a witch.
I am burning it.

Yes I am torching
her curves and paps and wiles.
They scorch in my self denials.

How she meshed my head
in the half-truths
of her fevers

till I renounced
milk and honey
and the taste of lunch.

I vomited
her hungers.
Now the bitch is burning.


In other news, a poem of mine originally published in the Spring 2008 issue of The Louisvile Review has been selected to be featured in American Life in Poetry. Sponsored by The Poetry Foundation, Library of Congress, and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, and edited and founded by former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, ALP "provides newspapers and online publications with a free weekly column featuring contemporary American poems." I'm really excited to be a part of this project.


jilmeka said...

congrats, matt! that is awesome news about your poem.

tanuj solanki said...

the dark mystic...

these were the first words tat came to me when i read the poem