Figurative Language--language using figures of speech (a way of
saying one thing and meaning another); in other words, language that cannot be taken literally (or should not be taken literally only). Simile, metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, personification, apostrophe, are all forms of figurative language.
a. Simile: A figure of speech in which an explicit comparison is
made between two things essentially unlike. The comparison is made explicit by the use of some such word or phrase as like, as, than, similar to, resembles, appears, or seems.
“The Guitarist Tunes Up”
With what attentive courtesy he bent
Over his instrument;
Not as a lordly conqueror who could
Command both wire and wood,
But as a man with a loved woman might,
Inquiring with delight
What slight essential things she had to say
Before they started, he and she, to play.
What did we say to each other
That we are as the deer
Who walk single file
With heads highs
With ears forward
With eyes watchful
With hooves always placed on firm ground
In whose limbs there is latent flight
b. Metaphor: A figure of speech in which an implicit comparison
is made between two things usually unlike. Doesn’t use connective words such as like or as.
Life the hound
Comes at a bound
Either to rend me
Or to befriend me.
I cannot tell
The hound’s intent
Till he has sprung
At my bare hand
With teeth or tongue.
Meanwhile I stand
And wait the event.
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 it’s 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.
c. Metonymy and Synecdoche: Two common types of metaphor:
1. Metonymy: the use of something closely related for the
thing actually meant.
Ex: In “Out, Out--,” Robert Frost uses metonymy when he describes an injured boy holding up his cut hand “as if to keep / The life from spilling . . . .” Literally he means to keep the blood from spilling.
2. Synecdoche: the whole is replaced by the part.
Ex: Shakespeare uses synecdoche when he says that the cuckoo’s song is unpleasing to a “married ear,” for he really means a married man.
d. Personification: A figure of speech in which human attributes
are given to an animal, an object, or a concept.
Ex: When Keats describes autumn as a harvester “sitting
careless on a granary floor” or “on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,” he is
personifying a season. Also, in the
The wind stood up and gave a shout.
He whistled on his fingers and
Kicked the withered leaves about
And thumped the branches with his hand
And said he’d kill and kill and kill
And so he will and so he will.
e. Apostrophe: An address to a person or thing not literally
Western Wind, when wilt thou blow,
The small rain down can rain?
Christ! if my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again!
-----Anonymous (c. 1500)
f. Overstatement(Hyperbole): Statement containing exaggeration.
Ex: Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”: “An hundred years should go to praise / Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze, / Two hundred to adore each breast, / But thirty thousand to the rest” (13-16).
g. Understatement: Implying more than is said.
Ex: Frost’s “Birches”: One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.”—The end of the poem suggests that swinging on a birch tree is one of the most satisfying activities in the world.