Poetry essay: Using metaphor and symbolism in poetry

Metaphor and symbolism can be very important parts of poetry.  The idea of talking about something without directly saying it can be a very effective tool for expression.  If you read through some of the poems with explanations on this blog, you can see examples of the use of metaphor and symbolism.

The idea of the clarity and obscurity of expressing ideas through poetry, which relates to the idea of using metaphor and symbolism, was written about in a previous poetry essay on this blog: Clear vs. mixed clear and obscure vs. obscure poetry.

Metaphor and symbolism can be ways to add depth to whatever a poet is writing about.  If the subject matter is light, metaphor and symbolism can make it seem deeper than it is.  If the subject matter is significant, metaphor and symbolism can be a vehicle for expression that lessens the directness but makes the idea more subtly impactful.

Look at this poem:

his life did wane,
beneath the sun,
and in bright days,
no one did mourn

This poem sounds significant.  It seems to be about someone dying and not being mourned.  The poem has a sound of depth to it.

In reality, this poem is about something light: the melting of a snowman.  The poem was written in a way so as to make something little sound like something more.

Writing a poem in this way can have different affects.

On the one hand, it might appear to some to be silly.  A poet writing with depth about something so small.

On the other hand, some might view this poem as a way to express an idea.  The death of the snowman is symbolic.  It is speaking of some larger or more important idea.  For example, imagine if someone saw a snowman melt and it reminded them of the death of someone they knew.  With this view, the symbolism fits the situation.

One caution to writing a poem in this way, is that if a reader learns the true meaning of the poem, they might feel deceived.  Think about a song that you liked and thought was significant, until you learned it was about something small and light.

Here is another poem:

Snowmen,
twenty in a row,
a memory

The arc of time,
moved with pace,
so few are left

The spring will come,
the day will come,
when the field has flowers,
but no snowmen.

This poem is a little like a mirror of the first.  This poem is explicitly about snowmen.  It is basically talking about them disappearing through the winter.  There is a sadness to the poem, even though it is overtly about something light.

This poem though has more depth.  It is really about soldiers from a war many years before.  You may have seen a picture of soldiers of a past war lined up for a photograph.  Imagine it has been fifty years since the picture was taken.  Many of those soldiers would have died.  At some point, all will be gone.  That is the real meaning of the poem.

This poem uses metaphor and symbolism to express something significant, in a way that stills feels significant, but is less direct.  The poem still has emotion, but it might not hit as hard as if the poem had been overt.  Given that though, the poem might seem more reflective and more able to stimulate a sense of thought than a more direct poem might.  The poem is more subtly impactful.

 

Metaphor and symbolism are important for poetry.  They allow a poet a means to express ideas without just saying them.  They can impart meaning to things that are mundane and add subtly to things that are significant.

 

P. S. Happy fourth day of Christmas.

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