Making Metaphors, Part One

Aristotle says the ability to see one thing as another is the only truly creative human act.

[caption id="attachment_227164" align="alignnone" width="574"] Marble bust of Aristotle. Public domain.[/caption] Metaphors are not user-friendly. They are hard to find and hard to use well. Unfortunately, metaphor is a mainstay of good lyric writing; indeed, of most creative writing. From total snores like “break my heart” and “feel the emptiness inside” to awakening shocks like “the arc of a love affair” (Paul Simon), “feather canyons” (Joni Mitchell), “soul with no leak at the seam” (Peter Gabriel), and “Brut and charisma poured from the shadows” (Steely Dan), metaphors support lyrics like bone. The trick is to know how to build them. In its most basic form, metaphor is a collision between ideas that don’t get along. It jams them together and leaves us to struggle with the consequences: for example, an army is a rabid wolf. We watch the soldiers begin to snarl, grow snouts and foam at the teeth. The army disappears and we are left to face something red-eyed and dangerous. Of course, an army isn’t a wolf. All metaphors must be literally false. If the things we identify are the same (e.g., a house is a dwelling place), there is no metaphor, only definition. Conflict is essential for metaphor.…

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