I recently returned to the study of metaphor from a phenomenlogical/psychological perspective and have been reading George Lakoff’s (2004) “Don’t Think of An Elephant!” Lakoff and his frequent co-author, Mark Johnson wrote “Metaphors We Live By” (1980), one of the most significant books to be produced in modern times). That book radically changed the way I think of metaphor, taking it right out of the poetry classroom to the life classroom where it really belongs. I published, in 2014, a piece on “Rescuing Metaphor from the Poetry Classroom,” likening its imprisonment there as the equivelant of it being Rapunzel, locked in her tower, watching the deaths of hapless suitors who attempted to climb up, rescue her and run off with her. Metpahor belongs in the language classroom at the very least, and should not be isolated to the poetry lesson, and dealt with in maybe one or two questions of the following kind: “Where is the metaphor in the first stanza of this poem? “ followed by,”When you’ve found it, explain what it means.” This is what turns most kids off poetry, making them fearful of approaching it, likening it to a landscape filled with hidden swamps and quicksand ponds ready to suck you in and drown you. It also ignores the reality that metaphor pervades ALL our language, our daily speech, our newspapers, politician’s speeches, the advertising industry, indeed, all our thinking.
In “Don’t Think of an Elephant (2004),” Lakoff statess what most of us have never heard in school – a truth about metaphors and their power: ”Everything we we know is physically instantiated in the neural system of our brains.” So, he writes, ”As a metaphor analyst, I want to begin with the power of images and where that power comes from..” I recommend reading his little classic as well as that by Lakoff and Johnson (1980): “Metaphors We Live By.”
Of course, many metaphors in daily langauge quickly become clichéd. Here are some common examples: “you’re on top of things”…I’ve been to hell and back”….”Yes, it’s sad that all those people had to die…collateral damage is one of the consequences of the battle for freedom”…”Be the change you want”….Saadham was threatening our oil lifekine”…. And so on. Metpahor proliferates our lives. So, poets keep on having to come up with fresh metaphors.
A little exercise to conclude with: come up with ten metaphors for kindess or love that you’ve not heard often enough to declare as stale. Cheerio till next time.