Seamus Cooney

Notes on Imagery

2: Implicit Images

Go to Explicit Imagery or a page of basic definitions of metaphor and simile.

"The image is the thing named" -- "what the words actually name."
Hugh Kenner

Seizing the implicit image

Not all images are explicitly named, for one reason or another. The poet may not want the thing named to be in the foreground of our attention. Nevertheless, if we are studying a poem and trying to increase our awareness of how it works, it is always helpful to notice what the implied images are.

Example 1:

The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
-- T. S. Eliot, "Preludes"
As well as the general topic -- days -- there is a thing being named there: some thing that burns out and gives smoke. Most of us soon realize that it must be something like a cigarette butt or a cigar butt. Then we can reflect on what connotations that has in context -- waste, revulsion, etc.

Example 2:

Torn off unused
-- Philip Larkin, "Aubade"
What thing can we imagine concretely that can be "torn off" when it's unused? In class we decided on a calendar -- the kind with a page for each day which gets torn off as each day passes.

Example 3:

               Now does he feel
His secret murders sticking on his hands.
-- Shakespeare, Macbeth
Here the hands are, of course, concrete "things," but the power of the image comes from what "sticking" contributes -- and that is, in turn, some further thing. What do you think it is? And what power does it carry?

Compare your response to that of a fine English critic, H. Coombes.

Example 4:

Upon Julia's Clothes

Whenas in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes!

Next, when I cast mine eyes and see
That brave vibration each way free,
Oh how that glittering taketh me!
-- Robert Herrick
The image created by "flows" and "liquefaction" together is plain enough, I would hope. The silken dress becomes a flowing liquid surface -- a stream perhaps -- rippling over Julia's moving flesh.

In the second stanza there is a much less obvious image half-evoked by "cast," especially in the watery context already obtaining. It's an image from angling, is it not? Casting his eyes and seeing the "brave vibration" (as if it were a fish seen through water) results, however (in a nice reversal), not in the taking of the prey but in the captivation of the predator, the poet observer himself.

Example 5:

How all occasions do inform against me
And spur my dull revenge.
Shakespeare, Hamlet
What is the image -- the thing named -- here, in the second of these lines? There is also an implied metaphor in the first line, to be sure, but for the moment my question asks you to focus on the second line, "spur my dull revenge." What thing is the abstraction "revenge" being imaged as here? Perhaps you'd like to choose an answer. Click on one of the buttons below, add a comment in the scroll area, and then press the "Submit" button.

Warning: When you click on "submit" below, you'll see a screen on which I tell you what I think is the right answer and why I think the other choices are mistaken! I do not mean to be offensively dogmatic, just as clear as I can be as a stimulus to your own thinking.

So be prepared to feel annoyed if we disagree, and feel free to return to this page or to the class conference with further arguments or questions.

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A knife         A spy         Indecisiveness         A horse         A pleasant slave

Please feel free to add a comment. I will read it with interest.
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