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· The conversion of plain into figurative language requires the exercise of considerable thought, and quickness of perception in tracing analogies. It is recommended to the student before he attempts an exercise of this kind, to read with attention portions of the works of some distinguished poet, with special reference to the figures he employs. Let him analyze the expressions, and point out what portions are figurative, in what the figure consists, and on what analogy the figure is founded. An exercise of this kind will bring the mind into vigorous action, and like all exercises having that tendency. cannot fail to be highly beneficial.
RULES OF METAPHORS.
The following are the rules laid down by Dr. Blair, in relation to metaphors :
First. They must be suited to the nature of the subject; neither too numerous, nor too gay, nor too elevated for it. We must neither attempt to force the subject, by the use of them, into a degree of elevation not congruous to it; nor, on the contrary, suffer it to fall below its proper dignity. Some metaphors would be beautiful in poetry, which would be unnatural in prose; some are graceful in orations, which would be highly improper in historical composition. Figures are the dress of sentiment; they should, consequently, be adapted to the ideas which they are intended to adorn.
The second rule respects the choice of objects whence metaphors are to be drawn. The field for figurative language is very wide. ‘All nature opens her stores, and allows us to collect them without restraint. But we must beware of using such allusions as raise in the mind mean, low, or dirty ideas. To render a metaphor perfect, it must entertain as well as enlighten. The most pleasing metaphors are derived from the frequent occurrences of art and nature, or from the civil transactions and customs of mankind.
In the third place, a metaphor should be founded on a resemblance, or analogy, which is clear and striking, not far fetched, nor difficult to be discovered. Harsh or forced metaphors are always displeasing, because they perplex the reader, and, instead of illustrating the thought, they render it intricate and confused.
In the fourth place, we must never jumble metaphorical and plain language together; that is, never construct a period, so that part of it must be understood metaphorically, part literally.
In the fifth place, take care not to make two different metaphors meet on the same object. This, which is called mixed metaphor, is one of the greatest abuses of the figure. Shakspeare's expression, for example,
"To take arms against a sea of troubles,” makes a most unnatural medley, and entirely confounds the imagination.*
In examining the propriety of metaphors, it is a good rule to form a picture of them, and to consider how the parts agree, and what kind of figure the whole presents, when delineated with a pencil.
Metaphors, in the sixth place, should not be crowded together on the same object. Though each of them be distinct, yet if they be heaped on one another, they produce confusion.
The last rule concerning metaphors is, they should not be too far pursued. For, when the resemblance, which is the foundation of the figure, is long dwelt upon, and carried into all its minute circumstances, an allegory is produced, instead of a metaphor; the reader is wearied, and the discourse becomes obscured. This is termed, straining a metaphor.
PROSOPOPOEIA, OR PERSONIFICATION. The literal meaning of prosopopoeia is, the change of things to persons. A fondness for life and animated beings, in preference to inanimate objects, is one of the first principles of literary taste. That figure, therefore, by which life and action are attributed to inanimate objects, is one of frequent occurrence among the best writers of prose and of poetry. To poetical writers, especially, it is of the greatest consequence, as constituting the very life and soul, as it were, of their numbers. This will easily be seen by the following example:
“ The brilliant sun is rising in the east.” How tame and spiritless is this line, compared with the manner in which the same idea is expressed by the poet, thus :
“But yonder comes the powerful King of Day,
Rejoicing in the east.” |
* Mr. Steele, in his “ Prosodia Rationalis," has rescued the Bard of Avon from this inconsistent metaphor, by the suggestion, that it was originally written, “ To take arms against assail of troubles."
f This extract, from Thomson's Seasons, operates as a temptation, that cannot be resisted, to present another from the same page, which, as a pic ture, remarkable alike for beauty of coloring, dignity of appearance, and sublimity of conception, is scarcely equalled in any other language. That
There are three different degrees of this figure, says Dr. Blair, which it is requisite to distinguish in order to determine the propriety of its use.
The first is, when some of the properties of living creatures are ascribed to inanimate objects; the second, when these inanimate objects are described as acting like such as have life; and the third, when they are ex. hibited as speaking to us, or as listening.
The first and lowest degree of this figure, which consists in ascribing to inanimate objects some of the qualities of living creatures, raises the style so little, that the humblest discourse admits it without any force. Thus, a raging storm, a deceitful disease, a cruel disaster - are familiar expressions. This, indeed, is so obscure a degree of personification, that it might, perhaps, be properly classed with simple metaphors, which almost escape our observation.
The second degree of this figure is, when we represent inanimate objects as acting like those that have life. Here we rise a step higher, and the personification becomes sensible. According to the nature of the action which we ascribe to those inanimate objects, and to the particularity with which we describe it, is the strength of the figure. When pursued to a considerable length, it belongs only to studied harangues; when slightly touched, it may be admitted into less elevated compositions.
the student may duly appreciate the skill of the poet, and the magnificence of the design, it is first presented in plain language :
“Every thing that grows depends on the light and heat of the sun, as it is passing along the ecliptic. All mankind depend upon it for their daily subsistence. The seasons, the hours, the wind and the rain, the dew and the storm, influenced as they are by the sun, are instrumental in producing herbs, fruits, and flowers, during the whole year."
From such a tame and lifeless recital, the poet has formed the following magnificent picture, which he holds up to the sun, under the pamo (see Onomatopoeia) of " Parent of Seasons :
“ The vegetable world is also thine
“The offended Law draws the sword from its scabbard, in vengeance against the murderer.”
Here the law is beautifully personified, as reaching forth its hand te give us a sword for putting a murderer to death.
In poetry, personifications of this kind are extremely frequent, and are, indeed, the life and soul of it. In the descriptions of a poet, who has a lively fancy, every thing is animated. Homer, the father of poetry, is remarkable for the use of this figure. War, peace, darts, rivers, every thing, in short, is alive in his writings. The same is true of Milton and Shakspeare.*
The third and highest degree of this figure is when inanimate objects are represented, not only as feeling and acting, but as speaking to us, or listening when we address them. This is the boldest of all rhetorical figures ; it is the style of strong passion only, and therefore should never be attempted, except when the mind is considerably heated and agitated. The following is an example of this kind:
Must I leave thee, Paradise ? thus leave
It is to be remarked, with regard to this degree of personification, first, that it should never be attempted unless when prompted by strong feel. ing, and should never be continued when the feeling begins to subside.
Secondly. That an object that has not some dignity in itself, or which is incapable of making a proper figure in the elevation to which we raise it, should never be personified. Thus, to address the body of a friend is not at all unnatural; but to address the several parts of the body, or the clothes which he wore, is not compatible with the dignity of grave composition.
Examples of the three degrees of personification for the student to designate:
With other ministrations, thou, oh Nature,
* No personification is more striking, or introduced on a more proper occasion, than the following of Milton, upon Eve's eating the forbidden fruit:
“ So saying, her rash hand, in evil hour,
Sweet scented flower, who 't wont to bloom
I have marked
Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives,
* Any volume of poetry will furnish exercises of this kind to the student, rendering it unnecessary to multiply them here. In personifying inanimate objects, things remarkable for power, greatness, or sublimity, are represented as males. Things beautiful, amiable, or prolific, or spoken of as receivers and containers, are represented as females.