Metaphor Is a Many-Splendored Thing

Figurative language or Metaphor encompasses almost any unusual way of expressing meaning through words. As a means of communication through careful control of diction, metaphor is most typical of poetry.

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“In rhetoric, a metaphor is a figure of speech in which for the purpose of emphasizing a particular quality, one thing is said to be something else which is well-known for that quality. Of an athlete, we may say, “He is a Rock of Gibraltar in defense”, meaning that he is as strong and immovable as the Rock of Gibraltar. In the sentence “Adversity is the grindstone of life”, adversity is compared to a grindstone because it is hard and rough (cross, Smith and Stauffer, 1932).

A writer who frequently makes use of figurative language in expressing himself is a poet if only because he shows himself to be “at home” with a metaphor which is the language of poetry. Here are some of the classifications of the metaphor: Apostrophe, Hyperbole, Imagery, Metonymy, Onomatopoeia, Paradox, Personification, Simile, Synecdoche, and Understatement and Pun. Only such figures of speech are utilized in the poem, Parallel Paths by Kevin Clark will be discussed, namely: paradox, imagery, metaphor, personification, simile, onomatopoeia, and hyperbole or exaggeration.

A paradox is a seemingly impossible statement that on closer consideration is proven to be true. “He who would win his life must lose it” is a paradox. It is apparently self-contradicting, but expressing a truth when properly understood (Colwel, 1968).

Lines 4 to 5 are paradoxical in that another couple is said to be sadly animate, but it is possible to both animate and sad when the individuals that constitute the couple are feigning happiness.

Imagery is a distinct concept, however, it refers particularly to verbally communicated sense experience. The most common is the visual image or word picture. Any visual description creates such image as in lines 5 to 7:

“like that sadly animate couple
You can see through a clearing
On a parallel path.”

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Metaphor equates what is literally meant with something else whether explicitly or implicitly. “You are a dog, sir!” is an explicit metaphor that has been used so often that “worthless person” has become one of the literal denotations of “dog”. In Parallel Paths, lines 8 to 11 contain a metaphor wherein the word weather is compared to the relationship existing between the couple. Both have turned miserable.

Still another metaphor occurs in the fourth to the last line: “…a single mutable wildflower”. The persona’s wife is directly compared to a changeable wildflower burning in its ochre light. The wife is “off the path but holding out to you.” It seems that it is an endangered relationship that exists between husband and wife but is not quite severed since the wife still continues to hold on.

Personification speaks of non-humans as though they were human. “With what sad steps, O moon, though climb’st the skies! How silently, and with how wan a face!”

In this case, the moon is made to resemble
a mournful person who is luckless in love.
In the assigned poem, line 12 contains a personification:
“As if having recently unlearned
The habit of empathy, the sky
Over their forest seems to laugh
At whatever they say…”

In the poem, the sky is likened to a person who laughs at whatever the couple says, having forgotten how it is to empathize with others.

Onomatopoeia is a kind of imagery and also a technique related to sound control in versification. Onomatopoetic words imitate the sounds they name; hiss, buzz, meow, pow, etc. Words that suggest their meaning by their sound are called onomatopoeic, even if they do not themselves name sounds such as slither, flutter, spit and flash (Colwel, 1968).

“Or right now: how all of these thoughts
Have occurred to you in a flash”
Lastly comes hyperbole or exaggeration. “Hyperbole is an overstatement.
“You could have knocked me over for a feather!” is a hyperbole expressing surprise.”
In Parallel Paths, towards the end of the poem are the lines:
“But really, she’s there, of course,
Off the path, among the ancient
Waist-high grasses, holding out to you…”

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The word ancient is used by the poet to emphasize the park is overgrown since the grasses are tall and have been growing there for quite some time.

The aforementioned concepts have been checked for their use in the poem Parallel Paths by Kevin Clark and found to be apt and fitting. Some questions to ask: What is really meant? How do the words actually written relate to what is really meant?

Actually, two couples figure in the poem – the couple that is first mentioned at the start of the poem and another couple seen through a clearing “on a parallel path”. Both couples move in a parallel direction and both partners of each couple also move parallel-wise. Both couples after a period of weeks are taking a stroll in the park after several weeks. Both couples seem to be miserable and their relationships have changed, have deteriorated.

The strain in their relationships comes to the fore by the use of metaphorical language that the poet makes use of to best advantage. Even descriptions of nature emphasize sadness, cold, and gloom.

The darkness of the forest echoes how each partner feels. The images point out this deterioration – “no need to hold hands”, “letting go and turning from him”, “Unlearning the habit of empathy”, “feigning and pretense”, “forgetting the names of old haunts”, “someone else filling her mouth”.

But there is a slim bit of hope in the last two lines:

“From here to that flower exist
No guarantees. But to get on with it.”

In not so many words, the poet is saying that although there are no guarantees that the marriage will hold; perhaps it may in due time; if both partners “get on with it”, even if both minds do not meet.

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For those who would aspire to become poets, the road is not easy. But the writer who persistently continues to hone his craft and attains the ease of coming up with apt and fitting figurative language every so often may well consider himself as poetical at least, if not yet a full-fledged poet since figurative language is most typical of poetry.


Clark, K., Parallel Paths.

Colwel, C.C. (1968) A Student’s Guide to Literature. Simon and Schuster, Inc.

Cross, T.P., Smith, R. and Stauffer, E.C., (1932), English and American Writers.

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