Assignment 4

by Zach Tomaszewski

for LING 440, Spring 2002, taught by Ben Bergen

Metaphor in Poetry and Fiction

   First Lesson
    by Philip Booth

Lie back, daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man's-float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heat what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

This poem is using the LIFE IS A JOURNEY metaphor. Though we have discussed this metaphor in class, I thought this poem made an interesting elaboration. Normally, journeys are over land. Here, the daughter learns to "lie out on the stream", will soon be swimming proficiently where the "tidewater ebbs to the sea", and must remember these lessons "on the long thrash to [her] island." Here's a closer look at this LIFE IS A LONG SWIM elaboration.

person swimmer
life skillsability to swim
difficultiesbreakers, fatigue, dangerous sea creatures, etc.
distance from shore / saltiness of the waterage / length of life lived so far

There are also some interesting changes in the LIFE IS A JOURNEY metaphor here. There are no paths on water, nor are there particular choice points or crossroads. A person can make a change in their direction at any time. They don't have to wait for two paths to diverge in a yellow wood. It is also interesting that the "path" or landscape can be deadly if you don't have the requisite skills needed to cross it.

I don't think this poem would work without this metaphor. The narrator is teaching his daughter to swim, but he is also teaching her skills she'll need to live her life. Most important of these is, when life seems overwhelming, to stop and rest, to look at the beauty around and above her.


One hand washes the other.

This proverb has a generic-level template of people helping each other in a reciprocal way. There is an entity (hand) with a need that it can not satisfy on its own (getting clean). There is a second entity (the other hand) that can help the first satisfy its need (by washing it). This second entity also has a similar need that it can not satisfy on it's own (also wants to be clean). The second entity helps the first, then the first returns the favor by helping the second. Both hands get clean by helping each other. This is the same generic-level template as Scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.

This proverb could be used to refer to a politicians voting on bills in Congress. Politician Bill needs more votes to pass his seat belt bill into law. He recruits a vote from politician Ted. When Ted later needs votes to pass his drunk driving bill, Bill votes favorably on it.

Here, Ted is the entity/hand that can't do what it needs/get clean on its own. He needs more votes. Bill is the second entity/hand that can help/clean Ted. Bill also has a need/is dirty. Bill helps/clean Ted, then Ted helps/cleans Bill. Both politicians get their bills passed.

This metaphor does use the Great Chain of Being in a way. Though it is talking about hands, hands are a part of people. Animals rarely make rational, reciprocal agreements.

A dog without teeth will also attack a bone.

This proverb has a generic-level template that people do not realize their own inadequacies when pursing a goal. At this generic level, there is an entity (dog) that has an inadequacy (no teeth). This inadequacy, because it goes unrealized by the entity, prevents the entity from trying to reach some goal (gnawing a bone). Indeed, the inadequacy may even mean the entity harms itself trying to reach the goal (perhaps the dog injures its gums).

This proverb could be used to describe a skinny college freshman who goes to a fraternity party. There, he falls in with a group of large football players who are drinking to excess. Failing to notice that he is about a hundred pounds lighter than the football players, he tries matching them shot-for-shot. The skinny freshman wakes up in the hospital while the football players just wake up with hangovers.

In this example, the freshman is the entity/dog. His inadequacy/toothlessness is a lower body mass than his drinking partners. He is unaware he has this inadequacy because he hasn't done much drinking before and no one else seems to be seriously affected by the alcohol. His goal/bone is to consume the same number of drinks as his fellows. Because of his "inadequacy," he fails to reach this goal, and in trying to reach the goal, he actually puts himself in danger.

The Great Chain of Being is used here in that the proverb describes an animal, yet is usually applied to people. Other animals often try to reach for the impossible. My friend's declawed cat would still try to sharpen her claws on the stereo speakers. And even plants seem to try impossible things. Perhaps the proverb could be moved down the Chain one level: Even garlic in the kitchen bowl will sprout..