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“Metaphors — a complex subject. What is involved in constructing them seems not so much a matter of seeking similitude or trying for explanation or description as multilevel word and image play. Metaphors set up echoes and reflections, not only of tone and color but of meaning in the story. The use of running metaphors in a piece — all related in some way to indigestion or water or loneliness or roller skates, or with a surrealistic or violent cast — will guide the reader in a particular direction as surely as stock can be herded. For me, metaphors come in sheets of three or four at once, in floods, and so metaphor use often concerns selection rather than construction. There are private layers of meaning in metaphor that may be obscure to the reader but which have —beyond the general accepted meanings of the words — resonance for the writer through personal associations of language, ideas, impressions. So the writer may be using metaphor to guide the reader and deepen the story, for subtle effects but also for sheer personal pleasure in word play.

“I was very young, about three years old, when introduced to metaphor, and I remember the first sharp pleasure I felt in playing what seemed a kind of game. I was with my mother in the kitchen of our small house. Classical music came out of the radio. I was not consciously listening until my mother, who was a skilled watercolorist, said, ‘What does this music make you think about, what do you see?’ Immediately I translated the music I heard into an image. ‘A bishop running through the woods,’ I answered. I had no idea what a bishop was but liked the word for its conjunction of hiss and hiccup. What the music made me see in my mind’s eye was a tall, glassy, salt-cellar figure — the bishop — gliding through a dark forest dappled with round spots of light. The connections of perception between the sounds of the music and the image of trees / slipping figure / broken light had been made. Thereafter, and forever more, I found myself constantly involved in metaphoric observation.”

– Annie Proulx

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One Comment

  1. As an avid Proulx and classical music fan, I’d love to know to which piece she was referring when she came up with that image.


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