Basics of metaphor, cont.

Some analysis of the examples

Seamus Cooney


    "a thing is spoken of as being that which it only resembles", That is, one thing is spoken of in terms of another. The thing being spoken of is sometimes called the tenor; the thing in terms of which it's being spoken is then called the vehicle.
  1. Yes! in the sea of life enisled, ...
    We mortal millions live alone.

    The "thing" being spoken of (the tenor) is us. The thing which we only resemble (the vehicle) is an island. "Enisled" in one word makes the comparison, the fusion of the two things into a single image.

  2. A Sonnet is a moment's monument ...

    Tenor: sonnet. Vehicle: a monument (i.e. a tangible structure, such as a statue).

  3. Not, I'll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee ...

    Two metaphors here. (1) Tenor: the abstract emotion despair. Vehicle: a dead carcass. (2) Tenor: the "I", the speaker. Vehicle: a bird of prey or an animal (like a hyena) that feeds on carrion.

  4. I taste a liquor never brewed ...
    Inebriate of Air -- am I -- ...

    The vehicle announces itself at once (some sort of alcoholic drink): it's metaphorical, we know, because it's never been brewed, thus is not literal. However, it's only when we get farther along in the poem that we discover more about what experience is intoxicating the speaker. Then we find that the tenor might be summed up as nature, or her joy in nature.

    An interesting point here is the metaphor can convey experience which would otherwise be hard to name. In fact, if this were not the case, what excuse would there be for using metaphor?

  5. I shall never get you put together entirely
    Pieced, glued, and properly jointed.

    The vehicle is a statue, announced by the poem's title, "The Colossus." The tenor, we discover gradually, is some enormous, dominating, but obscure presence which she has to labor to recover and understand and which is named finally as her father.

  6. Prayer, the Church's banquet, Angels' age,
    God's breath in man returning to his birth ...

    Three metaphors in series for (tenor) prayer. The second one is obscure to me, but the first (a collective meal, a shared pleasure) and the third (human utterance as inspired -- breathed into us -- by God) as rich and yet easily comprehensible in a Christian context.

  7. The hour-glass whispers to the lion's paw ...

    Hour-glasses don't whisper, so we're in the realm of metaphor (a personification, to start with). Hour-glasses do make a noise, though, as the sand sifts through. What might they be thought of as "saying"? Something, surely, about time passing inexorably.

    Why is this addressed to the lion's paw? Perhaps an echo of Shakespeare's sonnet on roughly the same theme: "Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion's paw."

  • Return to the page about metaphors and similes .

  • Return to Index of poems