The Metaphorical and the Conceit (I)

The Metaphorical And The Conceit
As It Speaks In Poetry, 
And/Or Poetic Prose

But is it so? For the connotative is the fertile ground from which all metaphorical devices take form. The use of a diversity of metaphorical devices is not new to prose or poetry. Melville’s, “Moby Dick” is a fine example of the extended metaphor used in the prose, the novel and Rainer Maria Rilke’s sonnet, “Archaic Torso of Apollo ” is a fine example of the use of the metaphor in poetry. Especially where Rilke compares the headless torso with its snapped off appendages to a bursting star and a wild beast. 

The common presumption:

That the denotative is the dominate thrust of poetry and poetic prose rather than the connotative.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star; for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

That Apollo’s expanded stone chest, the cavity that holds his heart of being, is still a star with its five extremities broken off. We just begin to touch upon this metaphor’s far reaching intent when we realize the transformation of distance and expansion involved in how this relates to the wild beast’s fur. The span of time and space that holds the enigmatic within an eternal depth of his metaphorical statement. I think the understatement here is the word “transformation.” A transformation both from outside the body in understanding what is seen as broken—a connectedness with like forms, as the wild beast’s fur; and yet there is a feeling of separateness—what waits inside the body, to only know one’s own landscape of personal feelings bursting in any singular moment like the twinkling of a distant star. Rilke also stated in one of his prose poems; “For The Sake Of A Single Poem:”

“For poems are not, as people think, simply emotions… For the sake of a single poem, you must see many cities, many people and Things, you must understand animals, must feel how birds fly and know the gesture which small flowers make when they open in the morning. …And it is not yet enough to have memories. You must be able to forget them when they are many, and you must have the immense patience to wait until they return. For the memories themselves are not important. Only when they have changed into our very blood, into glance and gesture, and are nameless, no longer to be distinguished from ourselves— only then can it happen that in some very rare hour the first word of a poem arises in their midst and goes forth from them.”

Poems or poetic prose are communications in the form of feelings bound in connectedness, as opposed to being language to be interpreted into specific meaning, but even beyond that they are transformations of the poet or writer’s internal landscape pointed at the universal or archetypal. They are to be felt not understood. The feelings of language most definitely communicate beyond the understanding of the meaning of words as they are expressed in written language. For beyond the unique usage of figurative language the poetic form should have the craft and power to transform the reader as the experience originally moved the writer. The use of metaphor in poetry provides epiphany, internal revelations or sudden insight about human experience. 

Communication of an internal universe is central to the consciousness of the poem and poetic prose. The poetic is absorbed more than it is understood. It should be written to envelope the reader not explain emotions or preach sermons to readers. Therefore poetry needs metaphor, ambiguity, and conceit, the extended metaphor—(Please see the included glossary of metaphorical devices), the extended ground of the implied. The poetical needs an abundance of connotation however it can be arranged by the writer. The more unique and creatively the poetic devices can be presented, the better. 

This doesn’t mean that a poem or poetic prose should not have intent or content. It just means that content and intent in the best of poems is somewhat subterranean to the surface or story-line of the congealed poetic presentation. That there appears to be something thematic at the entry level, but below the surface there should be molten magma—a viscous of pressed out heat and liquid rock. A cave or tube of flowing lava, a poem is like a squeezed-out bullet in this way. There is a shell casing that holds an explosive power. And there within the casing is also a primer ready to meet its percussive contact. As well the reader is a distant and faint target at which the whole thing is aimed to meet its final mark. It does not, necessarily, need all readers to observe its conclusive results; it is bound to change the moon-like harden landscape by its depth of penetration. One opening in the earth will suffice to mark that its capable capacity is known. If the poetic flow of the magma-bullet hits its bulls-eye, all is changed within the reader.  The implosion of the metaphor within the heart is doing what it is intended to do in a poetical presentation when it has the power, skill and foresight to hit the mark on the dime.

In this time of television and instant response, no one wants to dance to wisdom’s slow piano-waltz; pay any attention to the ancient wall of inner concern. But time worn are the stones within this hand-built wall, and time worn it will wear its renewed spiritual perception off in a unique and slowly revealed way. This is the invigorating energy and pulse found in better poems or poetic prose. That the reader is allowed their distinctive epiphany long after they have assimilated the poetic. That the realization process could be a tiresome wind lifting grains of timeless sand to wear upon the stones of the internal sphinx. 

Long after the discharge from the shell casing the metaphorical projectile hits its marked center to implode and burn its way into the heart. In truth the shooter or the shot does not have to be remembered if the target is hit. That the writing is only the catalyst for the poem’s reality. And the real intention is not the poet or the poem but the object of the listener. That if the writer changes someone’s worldly perspective, all his endeavors as a writer are to be commended. This is the use of the skill involved in the writer’s metaphorical craft. For the reader has been acknowledged and accepted by the writer to become who and what they are in the event of the readers musings. They are allowed to be who they are when opened to the presentation of the poem. Spirit being one of the prime movers and contention of the poetic, in my way of thinking. This is letting the metaphor bring and fetch what it is intended to be and do within the poetic. Well working metaphors being characteristic part of the craft of poetry.

For within any metaphorical presentation the parts are greater than the whole. That in a Pythagorean ontological sense of the quantitative combination of elementary units, I believe the psyche is the center of both the release of the metaphorical conceit and the conceit’s contact of absorbed repercussion—The metaphor’s recovered internal reconstruction from its immeasurable fractionation in comparison. That the metaphor’s infinite connotation becomes singular again within the reader’s own inner space. That the archetypal is understood through an archetypal presentation. And this can be applied to poetic prose as well as poetry. For as Carl Jung says:

An archetypal expresses itself, first and foremost, in metaphors. If such a content should speak of the sun and identify with it the lion, the king, the hoard of gold guarded by the dragon, or the power that makes for the life and health of man it is neither the one thing nor the other, but the unknown third thing that finds more or less adequate expression in all these similes, yet — to the perpetual vexation of the intellect—remains unknown and not to be fitted into a formula. For this reason the scientific intellect is always inclined to put on airs of enlightenment in the hope of banishing the spectre once and for all. Whether its endeavors where called … Enlightenment in the narrow sense, or Positivism, there was always a myth hiding behind it, in new and disconcerting garb, which then, following the ancient and venerable pattern, gave itself out as ultimate truth. i.e. (The collective Unconscious, Myth, and the Archetype/ From Literature In Critical Perspectives)

So, it is with metaphor, that poetic writing presents itself with a greater intrinsic reality to the reader. That metaphor positions itself to the wider adaptive side of personal experience. And in this way, it allows the reader to spiritually grow more through the expansion of the writer’s compressed metaphorical expression, to broaden the readers individual or peculiar self awareness. A metaphor pushes and pulls at the imagery within the poetic arrangement for a greater understanding from the reader. It may lose something in accuracy but it gains it back in brevity and transience. That it begins to linger like an unforgettable aroma within the readers mind. Here is a statement taken from the “Art of Chinese Poetry” by James J. Y. Liu, that tells us of the universal concerns of poetry, of the poetical;

Poetry is at once a source of strength and of weakness, for on the one hand it enables the writer to concentrate on essentials and be as concise as possible, while on the other hand it leads easily to ambiguity. In other words, where poetry gains in conciseness, it loses in preciseness. As far as poetry is concerned, the gain is on the whole greater than the loss, for, as Aristotle observed, the poet is concerned with the universal rather than the particular, and the poet especially is more often concerned with presenting the essence of a mood or a scene rather than with accidental details—The world in a grain of sand.

Metaphorical language breaks away from the literal and the direct significance of words to create special meaning and extraordinary effects. Metaphors present turns and unique thought that change the literal meaning of words to a suggestive matrix. It is through these forms of figurative speech that the poetical evolves its connotative depth. Its ability to present one dramatic example while completely meaning quite another issue, situation, or circumstance for the avocation of the whole, to speak of what is nameless. Robert Frost said,

“Poetry provides the one permissible way of saying one thing and meaning another.”

The metaphorical appears as a kind of unique form woven into language and writing, and it is actually something that is not separate from the individual form of a single piece. It would be bizarre to argue a firm case that it is only a part of the whole, for poetry or poetic prose are not without figurative speech as form. To attempt to present such a case would seem to me to be a doggerel position. A gutless fish without a backbone, a spineless wonder for sure. This is why it is so difficult to suggest a change in wording within the form of a poem; as we all know, when giving and receiving a critique, shifting the poetic presentation slightly changes the individual piece. The difficulty arrives because the metaphorical is the presentation of the poetic that is affixed as the form itself. And if you do change the form you change the metaphorical, and vise versa. With my understanding of different forms, I have to say I believe that the “Metaphorical Form” becomes “The Poem” itself— or the poetry in the case of poetic prose. The medium is the message as Marshall McLuhan, once said, but beyond that, I dare say the loop doubles back upon itself, like a Mobius Strip becoming what it isn’t—an endless string within the heart—The metaphor being what it is within the poetic. The other side of a one sided thing, which is quite difficult to understand in the literal sense, but it is not that hard to grasp in the poetic sense. Still many will be caught in the premise where I started. That the denotative is the dominate thrust of poetry and poetic prose rather than the connotative. Or that one style of poetry is more inclusive than another when it comes to the metaphor, as in the choice of form-poetry verses free verse. Personally I find this all absurd, for they all have their unique presentations of metaphor with many similarities as well.

But let me put forth this concept; A “What if” concept: Rather than the traditional and anti-traditional scope of contemporary metaphorical constructions. What would happen if the writer provides for the un-traditional concept, that which would allow him or her to use everything and anything either from the traditional or anti-traditional, coming up with something very new. That the un-traditional license gives all the right to say: That anyone can use anything they find in their personal bag of tricks concerning the metaphorical. That anything an individual writer has gleaned or learned from his or her personal research in the study of all metaphorical forms is open to poetical use. This would permit personal creativity to enter into its unique shape from the far corners of the imagination—both from the known and unknown without a concern for what is or is-not acceptable. That in the most extreme or broadest sense the words of a poem would no longer have to even be liner to be assimilated poetically. I have seen such experimentation, but that might be really stretching the use of metaphor as a structural form to a great extent, but it is interesting to think about.

Why should any writer want to limit themselves when there is so much to be had by not limiting themselves, or by taking a new position other than (for or against) a particular usage of a certain metaphorical form. Let’s enjoy the differences within the poetical by not seeking similarities, but by combining unifying principals into a universal whole. Besides, I’m not sure that the metaphorical and the poetic-form within a piece are not one thing; like bone and flesh, no matter how or in what style the figurative language is presented. We might carve the flesh off the bone to momentarily exam the creature, but I’m not sure we will have a living entity any longer. Or “The Poetical” for that matter unless it is reconstructed in some new way. That poetry’s inspiration is integral to the form as the metaphor. And the poetic form is integral to the inspiration as metaphor. Within the creation of a poem, at least for myself, the two seem to happen at the same time. One might proceed the other slightly before the concept is totally constructed, but by the end of a pieces’ rough draft the two have come completely together—into agreement collectively. That the inspirational form and the metaphor have become one—in a unity of poetry. (I might add, parenthetically here, this has nothing to do with the fact that a poem might be a complete success or still be, an utter failure or flop.) What I am speaking of here, is just the expansion of figurative thought through the compressed use of metaphorical devices to create a connotative pathway and depth within poetic presentation. More specially the metaphorical use of devices in poetry, the prose poem, and/or poetic prose. 

The best metaphor is tied both to a microcosm and a macrocosm of feelings. It carries both an expansion principle as well as a focusing principle within its connotative field. And it is always inclusive not exclusive. That by looking down or looking up we are pulled into its specific actuality as well as unfolded and pushed beyond into an infinite reality. To carry my thought a bit further, here is an excerpt from Lu Chi’s Wen-Fu on poetry, written in 303 A.D., translated by Achilles Fang, which states:


As to whether your work should be full or close-fitting, whether you should shape it by gazing down or looking up,

You must accommodate necessary variation, if you would bring out the latent qualities.

When your language is uncouth, your conceits can be clever; when your reasoning is awkward, your words can be supple.

You may follow the well-worn path to attain novelty; you may wade the muddy water to reach the clear stream.

Perspicacity comes after examination; subtlety demands refining.

It is like dancers flinging their sleeves in harmony with the beat, or singers throwing their voices in tune with the chord.

All this is what the wheelwright P’ien despaired of explaining; nor can mere language describe it.

The consummate metaphor is not limited in any poetic form of writing. And no individual piece is limited to the use of any one form or type of metaphor. So I say extend your metaphorical horizons for fuller presentation. I dare say, new metaphorical forms might be invented, discovered or rediscover at any time.  And that it is up to the writer to keep his eyes open for such possibilities in poetic development collectively; it is for their own expansion as a writer—of poetic prose or poetry.

This essay is the first of three parts. 

About the author

RH PEAT lives in California; He’s published his poetry in the USA, New Zealand, Australia, India, England, Canada, and Japan. He’s taught workshops and operated poetry readings in California. He now operates a closed poetry workshop forum for writers on the internet.

Other publications by R.H. Peat on Flashes:

Like a Comet, She is Distance
Bed of Sky
The Metaphorical and the Conceit (1)
The Metaphorical and the Conceit (2)
The Metaphorical and the Conceit (Glossary)
Seeing the Poem’s Depth
Interview with Poet & Artist R.H. Peat

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Created in 2014, Flashes is a privately owned literary website. We publish short stories, non-fiction, flash fiction and poetry. Our goal is to give talented writers a platform to showcase their creativity, with an emphasis on original voice, innovative style and challenging plots.
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