Metaphors change the way we think, without our even knowing it, which is why everyone should strive to have a poet in their conversational lives. A metaphor is a figure of speech that describes a subject by asserting that it is, in some way, the same as another otherwise unrelated object. This act of comparison or substitution can affect how we perceive and understand the world, and how we can visualize connections between disparate concepts.
The academic research of Lera Boroditsky has illustrated how the languages that we speak shape the way we think. This includes metaphors, which act covertly to influence our reasoning. In Boroditsky’s research with Paul Thibodeau, study participants were prompted towards discrete frameworks of thinking and reasoning when using different metaphors; in this case either a metaphor describing urban crime as a “beast” or as a “virus.”
We can harness the power of metaphors to throw open new vistas for our imaginations, revealing entire landscapes of possibility that were previously hidden to us. Poets are masters with metaphor. As conversational partners, they can provide us with new eyes to witness the invisible, and new avenues of ingenuity to stroll along. A few illustrations follow:
I’m a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf’s big with its yeasty rising.
Money’s new-minted in this fat purse.
I’m a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I’ve eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there’s no getting off.
As You Like It (extract)
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances.
The Garden Hose
In the grey evening
I see a long green serpent
With its tail in the dahlias
It lies In loops across the grass
And drinks softly at the faucet.
I can hear it swallow.
Dying is a wild night and a new road.