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  • When we talk, sometimes we say things directly.

  • "I'm going to the store. I'll be back in five minutes."

  • Other times though, we talk in a way

  • that conjures up a small scene.

  • "It's raining cats and dogs out," we say, or,

  • "I was waiting for the other shoe to drop."

  • Metaphors are a way to talk about one thing

  • by describing something else.

  • That may seem roundabout, but it's not.

  • Seeing and hearing and tasting are how we know anything first.

  • The philosopher William James described the world of newborn infants

  • as a "buzzing and blooming confusion."

  • Abstract ideas are pale things compared to those first bees and blossoms.

  • Metaphors think with the imagination and the senses.

  • The hot chili peppers in them explode in the mouth and the mind.

  • They're also precise.

  • We don't really stop to think about a raindrop the size of an actual cat or dog,

  • but as soon as I do, I realize that I'm quite certain the dog has to be a small one

  • a cocker spaniel, or a dachshundand not a golden lab

  • or Newfoundland. I think a beagle might be about right.

  • A metaphor isn't true or untrue in any ordinary sense.

  • Metaphors are art, not science, but they can still feel right or wrong.

  • A metaphor that isn't good leaves you confused.

  • You know what it means to "feel like a square wheel,"

  • but not what it's like to be "tired as a whale."

  • There's a paradox to metaphors.

  • They almost always say things that aren't true.

  • If you say, "there's an elephant in the room,"

  • there isn't an actual one, looking for the peanut dish on the table.

  • Metaphors get under your skin by ghosting right past the logical mind.

  • Plus, we're used to thinking in images.

  • Every night we dream impossible things.

  • And when we wake up, that way of thinking's still in us.

  • We take off our dream shoes,

  • and button ourselves into our lives.

  • Some metaphors include the words "like" or "as."

  • "Sweet as honey." "Strong as a tree."

  • Those are called similes.

  • A simile is a metaphor that admits it's making a comparison.

  • Similes tend to make you think.

  • Metaphors let you feel things directly.

  • Take Shakespeare's famous metaphor,

  • "All the world's a stage." "The world is like a stage" just seems thinner,

  • and more boring.

  • Metaphors can also live in verbs.

  • Emily Dickinson begins a poem: "I saw no way, the heavens were stitched,"

  • and we know instantly what it would feel like if the sky were a fabric sewn shut.

  • They can live in adjectives too.

  • "Still waters run deep," we say of someone

  • quiet and thoughtful. And the "deep" matters as much

  • as the "stillness" and the "water" do.

  • One of the clearest places to find good metaphors is in poems.

  • Take this haiku by the 18th century Japanese poet Issa.

  • "On a branch floating downriver, a cricket singing."

  • The first way to meet a metaphor is just to see the world through its eyes.

  • An insect sings from a branch passing by in the middle of the river.

  • Even as you see that though, some part of you recognizes in the image

  • a small portrait of what it's like to live in this world of change and time.

  • Our human fate is to vanish, as surely as that small cricket will.

  • And still, we do what it does. We live. We sing.

  • Sometimes a poem takes a metaphor and extends it,

  • building on one idea in many ways.

  • Here's the beginning of Langston Hughes' famous poem "Mother to Son."

  • "Well, son, I'll tell you. Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

  • It's had tacks in it, and splinters,

  • and boards torn up, and places with no carpet on the floor."

  • Langston Hughes is making a metaphor that compares

  • a hard life to a wrecked house you still have to live in.

  • Those splinters and tacks feel real.

  • They hurt your own feet and your own heart,

  • but the mother is describing her life here,

  • not her actual house.

  • And hunger, and cold exhausting work and poverty are what's also inside those splinters.

  • Metaphors aren't always about our human lives and feelings.

  • The Chicago poet Carl Sandburg wrote

  • "The fog comes on little cat feet. It sits looking over harbor and city on silent haunches, and then moves on."

  • The comparison here is simple.

  • Fog is being described as a cat.

  • But a good metaphor isn't a puzzle,

  • or a way to convey hidden meanings.

  • It's a way to let you feel and know something differently.

  • No one who's heard this poem forgets it.

  • You see fog, and there's a small grey cat nearby.

  • Metaphors give words a way to go beyond their own meaning.

  • They're handles on the door of what we can know,

  • and of what we can imagine.

  • Each door leads to some new house,

  • and some new world that only that one handle can open.

  • What's amazing is this:

  • By making a handle, you can make a world.

When we talk, sometimes we say things directly.

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B1 TED-Ed metaphor poem fog world small

【TED-Ed】The art of the metaphor - Jane Hirshfield

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    Why Why posted on 2013/03/28
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