A while ago, during exams I think, I let Linguistics take over my blog slightly…by analyzing part of one of my poems and explaining how we understand it even though not explicit. See the post here. Well, despite my concerns over boring everyone and scaring you all away from reading this, I actually had requests for me to follow it on! So, here we are…metaphoric waffle part 2 🙂
This poem – An Aquatic Journey – I wrote earlier this month to go with a collection of others, so there wasn’t really any specific inspiration, or forethought. I just picked up a pen, and wrote.
‘That stillness. No wind, no life, just peace and tranquillity Every tiny twitch is seen and noted The smallest of bubbles disrupts and spoils.
A babble. It trickles through stones, finds the smallest gap Fills all the spaces but soon moves on Slowly exploring the new terrain.
A sudden rush. Gallons upon gallons, spilling, tumbling Jumbling up, over and over, up and down Until it reaches the end.
Spreading. Opening out into the wider world Travelling further afield than ever imagined Ready to start a new adventure.’
Before I go any further, I would just like to say – I would really appreciate your feedback on the poem itself, possibly even before you read my next bit of waffle 😛 Although I won’t change it, I do consider criticisms when writing…sometimes it just takes an outsider to point out the obvious! Also, sorry for using my own poetry to ‘read into’…I know it’s a bit egotistical, but I do it because I know exactly what I meant to say and therefore can explain better what is used to understand it. Plus, there is such a large body of poetry available, I honestly wouldn’t know where to start!
Ok, here we go. Firstly, if we take it as a whole…what is it describing? Water. Simple enough answer. How about…how do we know? This is trickier. You could say, the use of ‘bubbles’ in verse one, but bubbles can be of the sort found in little bottles of diluted washing up liquid at children’s parties! It could also be a reference to Michael Jackson’s pet chimp (unlikely though!). If you look at the delightfully (un)reliable source that is Wikipedia, there are ten different categories into which lots of disambiguations fall. So, how else? Well, verse two uses ‘babble’ like a babbling brook. However, what word do we use to describe a child’s first sounds of speech? In fact, the water definition often is listed last. Ok, so how about verse three? ‘Rush’, ‘gallons’…well it certainly implies a liquid! However, many references to ‘gallons’ relate to fuel, as in ‘miles to the gallon’. But we are definitely closer than with chimps and children! Verse four doesn’t help us much either…’spreading’ could be anything! In a literal sense, yes it is likely to be a liquid (can also be a collection of concrete items…’he spread the papers all across his desk’), but in a more abstract sense it could be a sense, emotion, disease, a portion of time…the list goes on. So, to answer the question ‘how do we know’…it seems to be the overlap of these terms that provides us with our meaning.
But, is it purely a comparison of definitions? For example, if I had only posted verse one, would you have struggled to identify the subject? My guess is not. Maybe at the start of the verse you would…I agree that the ‘stillness’ and ‘peace’ doesn’t immediately assume ‘water’, but it does seem to place you in a certain setting…some part of nature perhaps. Then, by the time you get to the last line, your brain is likely to have activated the correct interpretation of ‘bubbles’. In the same way, verse two on its own doesn’t make you think about the speech of very young children! We use what we know about things, in this case water, and find those properties in what we read. We know water will fill gaps if you pour a glass of it into a glass of ice cubes, for example, so we identify the same process here. Similarly, we know it moves…anyone who has ever spilt a glass of water knows this all too well!! Verse 3? We already know that we are talking about a liquid…but if we didn’t, would we identify water? Possibly not. Reading it in isolation there is nothing there that makes it obvious. The ‘sudden rush’ makes me think of a ‘rush of blood to the head’…maybe someone stood up too quickly…this could carry on throughout…gallons relating to blood, or more abstractly, thoughts…the same with ‘jumbling’. So, in this case, yes we need the rest of the poem, but is it a comparison or something else? I’ll come back to that. Lastly, verse 4. Again, nothing tells us that we are referring to water…on its own it could be anything. So, how do we know?
The simple answer, a metaphor. Now, anyone who has done the same modules as me will currently be slowly rocking back and forth in the corner, possibly weeping…yes, it can be that bad 😛 I’ll try not to mention ‘love is a journey’ (oops, I just did :P). But seriously, it does explain how we understand this poem. From verse one, we identify what entity we are talking about and throughout the rest define it as discrete (use of ‘it’). Once we have that mental image, we apply it to the rest of the poem. Suddenly, babble can only refer to brooks, gallons are of water, and it is the water that is spreading. There is a second metaphor employed here though, that of personification. Look at verse 2 – ‘slowly exploring the new terrain’. How can an inanimate object ‘explore’? We apply human qualities to it. Verse 3 uses this to a small extent too – ‘until it reaches the end’ – this gives us the impression of the water making a journey, another quality of living things. Verse 4 continues the metaphor further through the use of ‘travelling’ and ‘adventure’. Think about it, does a drop of water actually ‘travel’? It moves from A to B, yes, but actually travel? I would say not. The only way we can explain it, is to apply the metaphor.
So, well done to anyone still awake and reading! And sorry to anyone for whom this has ruined the original poem. I know how you feel…it is the main reason I didn’t take English Lit. for A Level! But anyway, back to the point. We have looked at what the overall subject is about, and how we know that. I have discussed some of the use of language in creating a mental image, and giving it a personality, but still haven’t actually said what type of water each verse represents. I will leave it to you as to whether they are obvious, as I am the author and of course am biased! So; verse 1 is a still lake, verse 2 a babbling brook or riverbed, verse 3 a waterfall, and verse 4 is the water reaching the open sea, ready to reach somewhere else, or evaporate and fall again as rain.
Hopefully, I’ll go back to something a little easier to follow next time…clothes and bright colours probably! So for now, I’ll just say:
‘…The very process of studying the forms of a language has a favourable influence on mental development.’ Alexei Alexandrovitch in Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.