Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Metaphor by Louis Untermeyer

I have a ten year old in the house learning the elements of language, so this passage seemed especially pertinent when I came across it.

The metaphor is something more than an amusing literary device; it is a continual play of wit, an illuminating double entendre, a nimble magic in which writer and reader conspire to escape reality. Perhaps"escape" is the wrong word - the play of metaphor acts to enrich reality, even to heighten it. The average reader enjoys its intensification so much that he cannot help employing it. "My heart leaps," he says, knowing quite well that it contracts and expands quietly within the pericardium. Or, he declares still more mendaciously but earnestly, "my heart stopod still." Even while he scorns poetry, the ordinary man helps himself to its properties and symbols; his daily life is unthinkable without metaphor. Having "slept like a log," he gets up in the morning "fresh as a daisy" or "fit as a fiddle"; he "wolfs down" breakfast, "hungry as a bear," with his wife, who has a "tongue like vinegar," but "a heart of gold." He gets into his car, which "eats up the miles," steps on the gas, and, as it "purrs" along through the "hum" of the traffic, he reaches his office where he is "as busy as a one-armed paper-hanger with the hives." Life, for the average man, is not "a bed of roses," his competitor is "sly as a fox" and his own clerks are "slow as molasses in January." But "the day's grind" is finally done and, though it is "raining cats and dogs," he arrives home "happy as a lark."

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