Figures of Speech are such a part of our daily language that we often don’t even realize that we are using them. Whenever we call someone an animal of some kind, an ass, a dog, a snake, we are using a metaphor. Whenever we refer to something as it’s defining characteristic, like a blonde, a redhead, a hired gun, a hired hand, a sweetheart, we are using synecdoche. Whenever we use hyperbole to describe something – it is flooding outside, this is killing me, I’m dying of hunger – we are using overstatement. We say these things and hear these things and not think twice about them, but those are figures of speech, which is essentially when we describe something by referring to something else. This chapter goes through and describes the most-used categories of figures of speech, but linguists have identified countless different versions of this phenomenon in our use of language. Read the chapter carefully and learn how to identify these figures of speech in poetry where they are used constantly. There are a couple of things I wanted to point out about metaphors, however.
One is the difference between metaphor and symbolism. People often use these terms interchangeably, but there is a clearly-defined difference between them. Symbolism is being used when there is no comparison being made. The meaning comes from association. The big difference though is that symbolism is always comprised of things that literally happen. Metaphor is when what is being said is not literal but figurative.
For instance, when I say “those men are heroes.” That is literal language. The men exist, and heroes exist. When I say “those men are lions,” that is not literal. Men cannot be lions. However, you would have a strong idea of what I meant when I said that. The idea behind what is being said is pretty clear in both instances. However, one of them used literal language. The other used figurative language, as in figures of speech, saying something other than what is literally true, in its broadest sense.
Another thing I wanted to talk about is implied metaphors. Sometimes the comparison is not directly made. When someone says insultingly, “Quit barking!” the implication there is that the speaker is making a metaphor comparing the person to which they are speaking to a dog, specifically that person’s speech to the barking of a dog.
Implied metaphors are used by poets quite a bit. Sometimes the poet may go into great depth with an implication. A poet may use an extended metaphor that lasts throughout an entire poem and never name the actual comparison. The poem may just have a constant implication that suggests there is a comparison being made between one thing and another, the literal thing and the figurative thing. Either one of both may be implied.
For instance, if the previous person says after they say “Quit barking!” something like “you bark and bark and whine and whimper and put your tail between your legs,” the person has continued to compare that person to a dog, but the dog still has not been mentioned. The figurative object has been left implied while the metaphorical comparison has continued. They may go on to say something like “but you aren’t loyal!” That will makes us consider that the comparison has continued because dogs are thought of as loyal, but also a peculiar effect has occured because the object remained unnamed.
As I said, either the figurative object would remained unnamed and the literal named, like above, or the literal object may named unnamed as well. For instance, if the speaker above was saying what they are saying but not to anyone in particular, they both would remain unnamed. (This will sound strange because this would only happen in a poem for the most part, or a psychotic episode.) For example, they could say, “quit barking! They bark and bark and whine and whimper and put their tails between their legs, but they aren’t loyal!” We would have to use context to figure out who the person was talking about. Are they a woman who just had a break-up? Then, we could assume she is talking about men. Is the speaker an actor who just had to speak to an agent? If so, we could assume the speaker is talking about Hollywood agents. There is a discussion board for a poem that does both below:
In his poem “Lightening Bugs,” Ernest Slyman uses implied metaphors in order to compare lightening bugs to paparazzi. The entire poem is provided in three lines. The speaker says simply “In my Backyard,/ they burn peepholes in the night/ and take snapshots of my house” (lines 1-3). By stating, “they” for the subject of the sentence, the speaker leaves the literal object implied. By not saying who or what “burns peepholes” in the night, the poet leaves the figurative object (grammatically, the indirect object) implied. Leaving the literal object implied strengthens the metaphor because the obvious choice for the literal object, fireflies, remain like the obvious choice for the figurative object, the paparazzi, which is to say, they remain unknown and hidden. Leaving the figurative object implied is for essentially the same reason, strengthening the metaphor. By not saying “fireflies,” the poet creates figurative space that the poet, then, capitalizes on with more implied comparisons, which creates a unique poetic effect. By just implying “fireflies,” the poet is able to take the implication even deeper and not name the paparazzi’s camera flashes going off, which allows the “peepholes” to be burnt in the sky by those very same flashes, which strengthens the comparison to paparazzi and lightning bugs, by referencing the firefly’s blinking abdomen and the spots that paparazzi use to peek at celebrities. This all answers the deeply implied metaphor, the comparison to the speaker and feeling like a celebrity being spied on by the paparazzi in their backyard when lightning bugs would flash, which this literal situation altogether can symbolize the feeling of being paranoid in the digital age. Perhaps the author decided to name it “Fireflies” in the end to push the reader in the right direction.