“What’s a Meta-for?”(bad pun)


One of my students’ loudest complaints about poetry was the use of metaphor. “Why didn’t poets just say what they mean? Why did they have to “hide” their meanings?” As I have mentioned before, poets aren’t by and large intentionally obscure. Rather they are doing their best to communicate an image or an observation to the reader. So why use metaphors anyway?

I find that many times in regular conversation we will speak in metaphors without realizing it. We will say we have a “killer” headache, when we really don’t think we will die from it. Rather, we are saying that the intensity of the pain is like someone trying to kill us. So poetry uses the same device to help the reader understand something. (I realize that many people already know this. I am addressing the reader who is put off by poetry because of the “hidden meaning” stumbling block.)

In the little poem that follows I am using needlework, a hobby of mine, as a way to comment on the difficulties of contemplative prayer. In this case, the literal mistakes on the canvas reveal my lack of concentration on the task at hand.

Contemplation 101

You may think

you kept your focus

without wavering.

One glance

at the needlework

under your fingers

reveals the folly.

Thoughts drifted off.

Stitches record the detour.

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