Tag Archives: simile

Poem F–The Middle Way

Marie Mouchon nature reserve, Belgium; photo by Luc Viatour, link below

Marie Mouchon nature reserve, Belgium; photo © Luc Viatour GFDL/CC, link below

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Benign Light

To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I am posting  ten of my particular favorites — poems A through J (yes, I had to count off the letters on my fingers). I’d like your comments as we go along and, in particular, when all ten have appeared, your ranking. Which do you like best (10 points)? Least (1 point — I can’t bear the thought of getting Zero points)?

The previous poem, “Life Is Poetry,” you may purge from your memory bank. I think that I was struggling so much with it because it was too weak a vehicle to carry the burden I had placed upon it.

On the other hand — the following poem, “Benign Light (The Middle Way),” also has me a little mystified, but at least it’s a decent poem. It’s complete, it has been complete for a long time, I feel no need to eff around with it, so I can just study it, meditate on it, comfortably, no hurry.

It's a long way to Belgium from here

It's a long way to Belgium from here

Dordogne, Périgord (France)

Dordogne, Périgord (France), © Luc Viatour GFDL/CC

The photograph above and the one at right were taken by Luc Viatour, who is hands down the best photographer I have ever known, although I don’t actually know him, in the sense of having ever seen or spoken with him, inasmuch as he lives in Belgium and I live in Nebraska, though we have exchanged a few brief e-mails. He is very generous with his gazillions of spectacular images, and I illustrated most of my first book, Unfamiliar Territory, with his photographs.

Unfamiliar Territory would be a perfect Valentine’s Day gift, it occurs to me…. And while I’m engaging in blatant self-promotion, I might as well let you know that you can buy “Benign Light,” beautifully illustrated and sold in an 8-1/2-by-11-inch “frameless” frame, for, um, $19.99, with free shipping.

"Benign Light," $19.99

"Benign Light," $19.99

Benign Light (The Middle Way)

Benign, warm light inclines organic
things the way a cat will arch
contentedly toward a caress. Butter,
used to being cool, relaxes its
oppressive form and angularity
when carelessly left on the table by
the window. I used to love to sleep
in pools of sunlight, inching westward, creeping
toward the warmth, as hatchlings blindly cling
to Mama in the nest.

I held a match too long once, lighting birthday
candles on a marble cake with chocolate
frosting; though the little burn scarred
smooth, it smarted fierce for days. That’s when
I learned about the middle way and how
to look for balance in a contest of
extremes. But even in the agony,
innocuous as it may seem in
retrospect, of injuring a toe
or shin or elbow, when you hop about
for no good reason you can think of, there’s
a wakening of senses you’d forgotten
and a memory of the birth of feeling.
So, still cautious, you allow a bit
of gentle light to enter and to
circulate around the tender places,
so long unexposed, at first they shy
away but then are drawn as moth to flame.
And you remind yourself, “the middle way,”
and seek the shade. But something of the glow
remains, for passers-by peer in and say
to one another, “Look! A firefly.”

© Luc Viatour GFDL/CC

© Luc Viatour GFDL/CC


  1. Re “the middle way and how to look for balance in a contest of extremes” — give an example of a “contest of extremes” one might encounter.
  2. Why does the narrator “seek the shade”?
  3. Why a marble cake? Why not sponge cake or coffee cake? There are at least two “correct” answers to this question.
  4. This poem uses commonplace devices (rhyming, pentameter) in rather unconventional ways. How does this practice reinforce the meaning of the poem?

Do you see a bear there?

Yogi Bear

Yogi Bear

The appearance of a poem — the way it looks on the page — can be a poetic device, though it’s one I’ve never used, at least deliberately. But as I was writing a little poem for my granddaughter’s birthday, it struck me that the poem’s shape was similar to the profile of a famous bear — either Yogi (because of the flat head) or Winnie-the-Pooh, I’m not sure which. What do you think?

To Maggie on Her Birthday

You are so dear to me; there is so
much of me in you; and if you find
that frightening, then let me hasten
to assure you: It is Lovely being me;
I like myself enormously, and if some
say I’m slightly out of touch with what
they call reality, what do THEY know?
We all create our own reality, or partially,
or everyone would be the same, and even
the most skeptical agree — they name it
“existentialism” — they can’t help it,
naming things, I mean.

When dreamers say “Follow
Your Dreams,” it’s more than
a cliché, and those who choose
in favor of expediency, becoming
dental-floss distributors, perhaps
(there’s nothing WRONG with that,
if it’s the path that’s lit for you), may
someday wish the toss had gone the
other way. “We are what we pretend
to be” (Kurt Vonnegut), and there is
an infinity of glorious potentialities to
draw upon, not all at once, of course,
but bit by bit, as one will flutter past,
you snap it up, examine it, and keep
the best of what it has that fits. “Be
who you are” is HUGE and TRUE,
reliably, and has been throughout
history, that old banality that
is the key to liberty at last. It
means no matter what you
do, the hard, unblemished
core of individuality that
is uniquely YOU is built
of shards of love and
overfilled with joy,
is solid, beautiful,
unchanging, safe,
and permanent,
and absolutely
necessary to
the Universe.

Pooh with Kanga and Piglet

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Poem D

Des Moines, Iowa, early 20th century; Dad was born in Des Moines in 1913

Des Moines, Iowa, early 20th century; this postcard features seven church spires; Dad was born in Des Moines in 1913

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The Morris Chair

Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa

My maternal grandmother graduated from Drake University in Des Moines, some time before 1900; my paternal grandmother was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Oberlin, also before 1900

To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I am posting  ten of my particular favorites — poems A through J (yes, I had to count off the letters on my fingers). I’d like your comments as we go along and, in particular, when all ten have appeared, your ranking. Which do you like best (10 points)? Least (1 point — I can’t bear the thought of getting Zero points)?

Students: Name as many rhetorical devices used in this poem as you can. Here are a few for free: assonance, metaphor, simile, apostrophe….

Dad (left) and his brothers, around 1940

Dad (left) and his brothers, around 1940

The Morris Chair

for Dan Campbell, 1913-1985

Once ordinary oak and textile, it
became your incarnation’s residence
of preference, your citadel, in fact; and
since its frame and cast, at first, were hostile
to your contours, something had to give — and
there, the victory was yours; the Morris
never had a prayer.

As sitting folks will do, you made a firm
impression on the worsted cushion. Its
topography was less an object of
erosion than redistribution, and, in
time, the planet was reshaped: a plateau
here, a gully there… a landscape; where
before had been mere serviceable flatness,
there was now a valley sculpted by an
adamance of muscle, bone, and flesh.

After the armistice, you and the Morris were
compatible as are the angled pieces
of a jigsaw puzzle, which is why, when
anybody else might try to sit
upon the thing, that individual
would find it uncongenial — not rigid,
really, or relenting, never that — no,
just tenacious of its silhouette,
true to its architect, and guardian of
your indelible effect.

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Dundee School, Omaha, Nebraska

My school, Dundee Elementary, in Omaha, had a large playground and, between the fence and the wall, wonderful climbing trees and hiding places. I fell off the wall and ruptured my spleen when I was 9. Photo: RDG Planning & Design

In a small literary magazine…

…appeared this poem, my very own! Note rhetorical devices, including pathetic fallacy (anthropomorphism, personification), alliteration, assonance, consonance, simile, metaphor, onomatopoeia, internal rhyme, slant or half rhyme, and others.

Swaddled in Saturday Afternoon

Friday afternoon in early spring
was all but Saturday, and finer in its
way — a long, warm wallowing in
fresh anticipation — no activity
at all, allowing for the effortless,
habitual mobility of youth,
and I had energetic fantasies,
pie in the sky, like every other foolish
girl — I’m certain it’s a rule or ought to
be — uncensored dreams, I mean. How pliable
the world and I were then, how agile my
imagination, deftly crafting Saturday
scenarios and shaping situations on a whim.

Mother Greeting Children After School

Friday afternoon...

In my fringed suede jacket with my long,
brown hair in braids that swished across
my back, I could be Jo March or Annie
Oakley just by wishing to. A lengthening
of stride on pleasant residential
sidewalks, in an instant turned to hard-
packed trails across Nebraska Territory,
I was guiding covered wagons westward,
though unhappily my little pony, Daisy,
had been left behind in Council Bluffs,
recuperating from… from… um… the
hiccups; such a mystifying case,
so strange.

Girl Playing with Leaves

The wind changed...

The wind changed. Balmy just a tick ago,
the day turned strangely dark, and
cold, quick puffs of what remained of
winter merged into a gale. I loosed my
braided hair and let the wind do what it
would. I knew (the wind did not), no
matter how it tugged and turned, no
ordinary wind could separate my hair
and skin — a small but gratifying
evidence of power, to tease the elements
that way, and win. And with such grand,
decisive triumphs, Saturdays begin.

Kids in Spring

Oh! Here they come...

There was a wild and wooded place, if
only ten feet wide or so, that circumscribed
the park. Good climbing trees were there, and
shrubs to hide in while you waited for
Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp to ride in
from their day of keeping lawlessness
at bay. I must be canny and adjust
my brim, so it just skims my eyes. Oh! Here they
come! Alas! It isn’t they, not then! It’s
Robin and his Merry Men, and I, Maid
Marian, again defied the wind and
pinned my tousled hair into a prim,
aristocratic bun, with tendrils tumbling
‘round my face.

Mom Serving Lunch

...for there was lemonade...

The wind abated and the sun peeked out.
I leaned against the Gallaghers’ red maple tree
and watched the play of shade and glimmer in
the variegated canopy and felt
the muffled thrum that was the rhythm of
a Saturday in spring, the quieting
of afternoon in placid neighborhoods.
I heard my mother mixing commerce with
a bit of gossip as the Alamito
Dairy man, whose name was John, sold butter,
half-and-half, and cottage cheese, and muttered
something he had gleaned from Mrs. Hahn,
about the Beasleys’ sheltie’s puppies being
weaned, as I recall. I listened to the
uninflected tune of bees around
a clump of lilacs, heard a small child’s bleating
and her mama crooning consolation,
and a screen door with a wicked spring
obedient to physics, snapping like a
shot, too raucous for the soporific
interlude. And why not let myself
be swaddled by the sun, the homely
sounds, the scent of sod just laid, and lilies
of the valley emanating fragrance
disproportionate to their small,
delicate, half-hidden habitat?
Well contented was I then to call
an end to my adventures for a time;
for there were lemonade, and crackers, and
a book to carry to the back yard and my
secret nook between the privet and the
elm, concave as if it had been made
expressly for my shoulder blades.

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    The Many Roads…

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    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically




    The Ancient Ones believe: If we
    could hear it in primeval purity,
    beside a sacred spring, just by the
    sunlit surfacing where it emerges
    all but unadulterated, there must
    be, in all the fullness of a
    symphony, a song within the
    watercourse — which, hearing,
    touching, tasting, bathing in it
    heals the spirit of its slow,
    insidious decay and makes us
    innocent and wholly realized,
    perhaps immortal — who can

    Even now, you and I can hear our
    voices clear and buoyant in the
    chorus — although you might
    perceive nuances and notes and
    cadences in this eternal mystic
    composition differently than I.

    For since our origin, we have
    sailed on different seas to
    different ports; our purposes and
    choices have developed separate
    pathways in the mind through
    which the melodies pour in and
    where the orchestration rises like
    the ocean at high tide. Yet even
    so, divided at a crossroads,
    separated by a veil, we can yet
    decide — to harmonize or clash,
    sing peace or, maybe, dissonance
    and, if the latter, float with a
    deceptive ease, by flattery and
    treacherous inducement,
    downstream through the sluice
    gate to cacophony; so many
    voices, shrill and wounded from
    the willful howling, shouting,
    shrieking to be heard above the

    And when at last we learn that life
    is not a race, nor yet a test, then
    destiny — some call it grace —
    will bring us home, in this life or
    the next, perhaps a thousand
    lifetimes hence. The many roads
    are one road in the end, and every
    soul will seek at last the blessed
    lullaby; each in time will kneel
    beside a holy well, to rest, to be
    made innocent, as once more
    called to cleansing in the spring,
    the sunlit source of all we know
    above the deep and hidden flow.


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  • Spare No Sibilants

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Lesson 31

    Chapter 10: Meditation
    Part 4: Poetry-Writing as Meditation

    Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1  


    The creative arts are the playground for recognizing and understanding our purpose in being here. When we truly allow our spirits to be filled with the purpose, our minds can begin to take stock of the necessary steps and needed materials so the body can become the mover or manifestor of the desire. Mind, Body, Spirit: Connecting With Your Creative Self,
    by Mary Braheny and Diane Halperin

    * * *

    I wrote both of the poems below “meditatively” — that is, with an open mind, as part of a morning ritual.

    The first poem originated from my noticing that at this time of year, the earth’s orientation to the sun is such that the rays slant more brightly and beautifully through my bedroom windows than in any other season.  I have said before that I live in a church basement, though that’s not quite accurate. Half of my apartment is below ground level. The windows — there are four, all on the south side — are full sized, made possible by window wells.

    In meditative poems I try not to be intentional. I work with the poetic conventions I choose and let the tale tell itself. In this case, I chose the following:

    There are other common rhetorical devices as well. (1) How many can you identify? (Please name the ones you find.)

    The poem was going to be a meditation on a ray of light, but it turned into something quite different. (2) What might it have told me about myself that I hadn’t been aware of?


    My walkdown is half below ground and thus darkish
    with windows on only one side, and these mullioned
    and frosted and dusty, gray-tinted with shadows
    from brickwork and privet… and silent, so quiet
    that lightning and thunder at midnight can’t penetrate;
    but, more’s the pity, I can’t discern birdsong;
    cicadas lamenting and crickets scritch-scritching,
    however, are easily heard in midsummer.
    I once had a fright from a possum who tumbled,
    at least I inferred that she had, to the floor of
    the window-well; captive, she skittered around on
    the old metal screens; and I, thinking the threat must
    be human, in fear and confusion, punched in nine-
    one-one on the phone, and no fewer than two dozen
    uniformed men armed with pistols came quickly
    to rescue a woman alone in her bedroom,
    defending her person from one hapless menacing
    possum. The men with the guns were forgiving,
    and, surely, one had to do something, not knowing
    the danger. I do love a window that faces
    the south in the wintertime, feral four-footed
    invaders, indeed, notwithstanding; for sunlight
    slants through in a comforting, angular way that
    is perfectly suited for afternoon naps and
    geraniums, too.

    January 18, 2009


    The inspiration for the following poem was the much-embellished language of Elizabeth Peters’s delightful Victorian archaeologist and detective Amelia Peabody Emerson. Peters has written a few dozen books about the Emersons, all narrated (for the most part) by Amelia, whose husband refers to her affectionately as “Peabody.” There is an unrestraint about her utterances (as there is, as well, about Victorian houses, furniture, and other artistic expressions) that is greatly at odds with the more modern, pared-down prose of later writers. If something can be clearly expressed using five words, Amelia will use fifteen.

    tomb234There is, I am overjoyed to find, a new book in the series: Tomb of the Golden Bird (Amelia Peabody Mysteries).

    Again, the poem wandered into uncharted territory. (3) What do you think I learned about myself in the process of writing this poem? (HINT: There are no wrong answers.) 


     “They will rid us of resident

         “rodents,” said Amelia Peabody —

    Oh, what a droll redundancy

         Of D’s and R’s and S’s.

    Amelia is generous with consonants

         and commas and asides,

         not sparing

         an embarrassment of prepositions

         or extravagant Egyptian


    Ah, to scatter syllables

         with no fear of reprisal,

    Scribbling whatever adjectives

         arise, page upon page,

    To be intemperate at last

         and feel the weight of pent-up participles

         lifted from one’s shoulders,

         nobly carried, one might add,

         despite the rain.

    Now to feast upon the delicate,

         the succulent, the opulent

         accessories, plucked in

         leaner days from one’s

         repast, but frozen — for

         one knew their banishment

         would end at last.

    Economy, begone! Pack your

         valise and abdicate

         your stern and pious reign.

    Don’t slam the door when you

         egress. Expect no severance pay,

         for you’ve exacted

         more than you were owed.

    And now, a toast, companions

         in the liberation, mes amis.

    Now lift your flagons, lift them high,

         and drink to whimsy, arrogant,

         peculiar, wry, benevolent.

    Drink to liberty

         in flowing crimson silk

         arrayed; Amelia Peabody has

         gained the citadel, and

         holds aloft the flame.

    O, wasted wealth of words, O, damned

         display of Latin origins.

    O, Norse and Arabic, O, Gaelic,

         Greek and Cherokee, and more;

    Ye assonant ambassadors, rejoice!

    Amelia has restored

         your scattered fortunes.

    Spare no sibilants;

         there shall be subsurrations,

         seventy times seven, and

         a score besides.

    Throw wide the gates for

         summer’s retinue,

         ripe pomegranate.

    Go and populate the periodicals, reclaim

         the islands where verbosity

         has honor still.

    Amelia has gained the citadel,

         and yet, take care that your extravagance

         is eloquent, laid on with artistry. For as

         “the tombs themselves descend in

         “sinuous curves,”

    Endeavor to deserve, when you are

         gone, an orderly effusion

         in the manner you (yourself)


    Immerse yourself in immortality.

         Immerse yourself COMPLETELY,

         like Amelia,

    Who bathes and then adjourns to the


    Where breezes ruffle Nefret’s hair

         that shimmers in the light like

         golden threads.


    February 2006


    Assignment 31.1

    1. Answer the questions highlighted above in red.
    2. Write a meditative poem in blank verse using iambic or trochaic tetrameter. Your poem should have no more than twenty lines. BEGIN WITH A MINIMALIST, CONCRETE SUBJECT, AND DO NOT WRITE OVERTLY ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS.
    3. Identify the poetic devices in your poem.
    4. Send your assignment via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your assignment, but I will return it to you with comments.
    5. Keep exploring the meditations at www.LifeIsPoetry.net, and continue with your meditation journal.

    * * *

    To the Core

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Lesson 20

    Chapter 8: Writing toward the Core
    Part 1: Cleaning the Oven

     Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1


    Sistine Chapel celing, Michelangelo, 1508

    Sistine Chapel celing, Michelangelo, 1508

    Authentic art is not done for an audience. It is the Self communicating with the self (although, to be truly “finished,” art must be shared — not necessarily with the hoi polloi, but with somebody).

    Does that mean that commissioned visual art, poetry, or music isn’t authentic? Is Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel something less than genuine art?

    I believe that most true artists, when they accept commissions, find a way to separate their art from — or to integrate it with — the expectations of their patrons. In some cases, commissioned works are rejected or, if accepted, despised. Usually, however, those who commission statues or symphonies are familiar with the artists’ previous work, and so they are not caught off guard when the sculptor they’ve engaged, who has produced dozens of mammoth sculptures that resemble the claws of vultures, gives them a clawlike monument for their money.

    Picasso sculpture in Chicago; photo by J. Crocker
    Picasso sculpture in Chicago; photo by J. Crocker

    The Self communicating with the self


    Author and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, talking with host Krista Tippett on National Public Radio’s weekly program Speaking of Faith (August 14, 2008), said,    

    I was in the depth of depression and I lived in anxiety about my life and my problems and my future. And one night I woke up in the middle of the night again feeling this sense of dread, and a phrase came into my head, which said, “I can’t live with myself any longer. I can’t live with myself any longer.” And that phrase went around in my head a few times and suddenly, I was able to stand back and look at that phrase: “I can’t live with myself any longer.” And I thought, “Oh, that is strange. I cannot live with myself. Who am I and who is the self that I cannot live with? Because there must be two of me here, if that phrase is correct.”

    Most of us suffer, at one time or another, from “imposter syndrome.” We are afraid to let too much of ourselves show. We have public selves who are smiling and agreeable, and we have private selves who kick puppies — or who are afraid we might. When people seem to like us, we think, “Oh, if they knew what I really am deep down….”

    Poets can be a broody lot…

    Allen Ginsberg, 1978; photo by Ludwig Urning

    Allen Ginsberg, 1978; photo by Ludwig Urning

    …who in humorless protest overturned only one symbolic pingpong table,
      resting briefly in catatonia,
    returning years later truly bald except for a wig of blood, and tears and
      fingers, to the visible madman doom of the wards of the madtowns
      of the East,
    Pilgrim State’s Rockland’s and Greystone’s foetid halls, bickering with the
      echoes of the soul, rocking and rolling in the midnight solitude-bench
      dolmen-realms of love, dream of life a nightmare, bodies turned to
      stone as heavy as the moon….
     Allen Ginsberg, “Howl,” Part I

    Hot springs 

    Blood Pond Hot Spring, Beppu, Japan

    Blood Pond Hot Spring, Beppu, Japan

    If writing poetry helps you peel away the superficial layers of the self toward a deeper consciousness, you might find some darkness before you reach the inner light — just as, if you could drill a hole through the earth, you would (depending on where you started) encounter a lot of muck and mire and stubborn stone before you came to the fiery magma. Some people begin their digging where the crust is thick, and they encounter dirt and rock and more rock until they give up, concluding that cold, hard rock is all that’s there.

    But we are going to be intelligent and commence where the crust is thin and the magma is nearer the surface — someplace where there are geysers or hot springs, for example. If our goal is to penetrate to the core, why not do so where there is evidence that the core is, indeed, warm and bright.

    It will not do to carry this metaphor too far. Our planet’s very center is actually extremely hot solid iron. It is in the outer core and surrounding mantle where magma is found; and where magma comes close to the earth’s surface, it makes its presence known through volcanoes, geysers, hot springs, and other phenomena. 

    Mt. Cleveland volcano, Aleutian Islands, Alaska, taken from the International Space Station by astronaut Jeffrey N. Williams

    Mt. Cleveland volcano, Aleutian Islands, Alaska, taken from the International Space Station by astronaut Jeffrey N. Williams

    So let’s abandon our earth-crust metaphor and use a very different simile instead: Reaching the shining inner self is a bit like cleaning an oven. You can scrape and scrub and bang your head several times on the oven’s rim; or you can — more easily and perhaps more poetically — pour a half-cup or so of household ammonia into a bowl, leave the ammonia-filled bowl in the closed oven overnight, let the ammonia fumes loosen the grime, and in the morning sponge away the mess with comparative ease.  

    (I don’t have to tell you not to mix the ammonia with other cleaners or chemicals, right?) 

    However you go about it, if you really want your oven to be clean, you persist, because you know that the baked-on grease is not the oven. It is simply among the contents of the oven. Eckhart Tolle writes, in The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment,

    You may not want to know yourself because you are afraid of what you may find out. Many people have a secret fear that they are bad. But nothing you can find out about yourself is you.

    Nothing you can know about you is you.

    Most people define themselves through the content of their lives…. When you think or say, “my life,” you are not referring to the life that you are but the life that you have, or seem to have. You are referring to content — your age, health, relationships, finances, work and living situation, as well as your mental-emotional state. The inner and outer circumstances of your life, your past and your future, all belong to the realm of content — as do events, that is to say, anything that happens.

    What is there other than content? That which enables the content to be — the inner space of consciousness.

    Whenever I write a poem that arises from a dark place, I begin where my emotions are closest to the surface and I persist until the light appears. Here are three examples from my book Unfamiliar Territory:


    "The Other Side"Over on the other side, there is a quiet
    cottage on a grassy slope, where trees
    protect and decorate and cast their pleasing
    shadows on the water; and where children,
    hyacinths, and roses, cucumbers, and peppers
    grow, and snowy linens hung to dry are blowing
    in the breeze. Inside, bread rises in the
    oven, herbs depend from oaken beams, and
    last night’s chicken in its steaming broth becomes
    this evening’s stew, tomorrow’s casserole. An
    old man and a young man and a boy are sharing
    rituals and mending fences, while a woman,
    unaccountably serene, sips coffee, shuts her
    eyes, and says a prayer of thanks for all that
    providence provides.

    But on this side are broken shutters, dusty
    shelves, unanswered letters, leaves in piles, and
    moldy flower beds; and seams half-sewn on
    half-done dresses; half-forgotten words in
    half-read books; and pressing obligations
    half-remembered, half despaired of. Morning
    struggles through the cloudy panes of windows —
    gray and half-neglected or, perhaps, defied. A
    pallid beam succeeds at last and penetrates the
    barrier. It comes to rest upon the drooping
    pothos, which persists in barely living, never
    mind the diffidence its garden is.

    The ray of sullen light turns motes of dust to
    fireflies. At first they float at random; then they
    glide; then, whimsical, they dance as if to
    challenge gravity or chance; as if they
    will their time aloft, to have an audience, to
    shine like stars.

    They catch the sun and flicker. They have won a
    moment’s glory. Soon it ends, but they have shone.

    On the other side are peace and order; on this
    side is eagerness to cross the wide,
    intimidating border, to be purposeful and
    more, to yet achieve, to meet and to exceed an
    expectation, even one—to finish what’s begun;
    half-perfection wishing to be whole, to be
    forgiven for attaining less than paradise. But for
    all that, this side is painted with the brush that,
    dipped in heaven’s glory, must in time adorn
    the swale with yellow clover and, today, in dust
    makes manifest the morning stars.


    "The Summer of Going Barefoot"When I was very small,
    and I was very small indeed, and light on tiny
    feet, I found some great, thick, heavy leather
    boots, with soles like Frisbees, and I put them
    on. I often had to carry heavy things, you
    see, or so they seemed to me. I didn’t like to
    feel that I was sinking down into the ground,
    or wet sand at the waterside, or sliding on the
    ice or falling through the snow.

    A summer breeze would blow and tousle
    leaves on maple trees, then make its way to
    me, not stopping to say “By your leave,” but arcing
    almost imperceptibly to lift and sweep away the
    heavy things. Then I’d sit down, right where I was,
    unlace the heavy boots, take off my socks, and
    chase the wind. The load was my responsibility, you
    see, or so it seemed to me. But who can catch the
    wind? Not I. There was no cause for worry, I soon
    realized, and I stopped hurrying and felt how
    free I was and loved the feeling of the sand, like gentle
    hands massaging me. I lay down in a grassy place and
    felt the ground resist and then embrace me, or, maybe,
    the other way around.

    I could have stayed for hours and
    watched as clouds like giant puffballs skidded through
    the sky and seabirds rose and watched, then dove into
    the ocean. Slowly, steadily, the gentle sun caressed
    me on its progress to the far side of the earth. I might
    have slept awhile, for all too soon the sun was
    low, the grass was cold.

    The years flew by. I hadn’t worn my boots or even
    thought about them till the day I felt the weight again. It
    only ached a bit at first, but It grew heavy with alarming
    speed. I needed boots without delay, so I gave everything
    I had away to buy a pair and slip them on. The load became
    so big I couldn’t see where it began or ended. Winters chilled
    my bones without relief, and summer heat bore down, and I
    was sure it was the earth itself that I was carrying. My soles
    were almost bare by now, and I had lost myself.

    One summer day a little bright-eyed bird was perched upon
    the sand, and she, and she alone, seemed sympathetic, so
    together we trudged on a bit, until I almost tripped upon a
    man; he sat so still, and he was so serene, it seemed to me
    that he might give me some advice, so tired was I and so
    dispirited. He smiled and stretched his hands to me; I
    thought that he would take the weight away, but he just tipped
    it till it fell and rolled into the bay and out to sea and disappeared.

    “Now give your boots to me,” he said, but they’d become a part of
    me—so I believed. “Just try,” he said, and I untied them easily and
    peeled them off my feet. “Now fly,” he said. My little bird and I ran
    barefoot down the beach, and laughed to feel the sand and
    see the daylight once again. We turned and waved to
    him, and then we flew away.


    All-engorging, thick with vile effluvium, and
    restive, Night still heaves against the pane and
    probes the porous mortar, thus to gain a
    continent, and breathe again, but holding breath
    within, as if release would leave it spent of form and
    substance, vanished in a photon storm.

    No, to find fragility and penetrate, just as the hungry
    sea assaults the levee where it groans, and swallows up the
    shore—except that Night can but devour and look for
    more, can ebb but not abate, for it is powerless to
    moderate its gluttony, nor would it,
    if it could.

    Anna tosses in her sleep, and if she feels the indolent
    oppression, swollen with its kill, she feels it
    inwardly, and moans, the speech of wan resistance,
    drained of will, a feeble protestation, habit murmuring,
    “I am.” Something in her knows the enemy and would
    arrest it, summoning a name, essaying ownership.
    It rises out of bounds before the net is thrown.

    Bereft of thought and consciousness, it senses
    nonetheless that I alone am here to watch and to
    resist — to fill the lamp until the fuel is gone.

    One forgets at midnight that this too will pass; not even
    Night outlasts the unremitting circle. But at midnight one
    unreasoning expends what has been grown and gathered
    season after season, sacrifices every treasure, throws
    into the flame a hundred fragile artifacts, to gain a moment’s
    clarity. At midnight, friends have settled in and locked their
    doors, oblivious to ghastly appetite, now thickened by the
    certainty that Anna will comply and abdicate her shape, to be a
    pool, a fog, and then evaporate.

    Perhaps she dreams that Night will hide her face and nobody
    will notice that the Anna space, once occupied by negligible
    molecules, is vacant now. But Night and I were taken by
    surprise; we had forgotten that the planet turns. At sunrise,
    the tenacious lamp still burns, and
    Anna sighs.


    In “The Other Side,” I began in frustration, approaching despair, over the orderliness of my sister’s and my daughter’s lives compared to my own chaotic existence. In “The Summer of Going Barefoot,” I work through a spell of depression by recalling the liberation from my first, and most debilitating, depression episode. When I wrote “Anna Sighs,” I was struggling with a demanding, draining, and unsatisfying employment experience, one in which I felt irrelevant and invisible.

    When I began writing these poems, I didn’t know how they would end, except in light. I wasn’t sure how the light would appear — only that I was reaching toward it.

    Assignment 20.1

    Write a poem about one source of emotional turmoil in your life. Your poem should

    • work toward enlightment about, not necessarily resolution of, the tumultuous situation, your feelings about it, and your responsibility for it

    • identify the emotion or the situation metaphorically (For example, if you are stressed beyond endurance by an incorrigible son or daughter, you might be “a blade of grass in the jaws of a wildebeest.”)

    • contain a first-person perspective (that is, there must be an “I” narrator)

    • have a regular, rhythmic meter

    • consist of thirty lines or fewer

    • contain rhyme, though the rhyming need not be at the ends of the lines

    Please e-mail your finished assignment to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your work, but I will return it to you with comments.

    * * *




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    The Darkness. Is Dark.

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Assignment 17.2
    Chapter 7 (continued): Metaphorically Speaking

    Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1

    Working Definitions of Art, Poetry, and Verse

    Figure 1: Working Definitions of Art, Poetry, and Verse


    Perpetrating truculent profligacies can put you in a pickle

    First, review our working definitions of art, poetry, and verse (above).

    There is such a thing as bad writing, which, simply put, is writing that doesn’t communicate well. I suppose that bad poetry exists, too, though I prefer to think of it as “amateur verse.” Poetry, as we’ve discussed, generally requires some knowledge of rhetorical devices and the disciplined application of them.

    Below are excerpts from poems appearing in the New American Poetry Anthology* (1988 edition). The NAPA sponsored a competition and, one infers, accepted most of the entries, calculating that the poets whose work was published would buy copies of the book (at $50 each plus shipping; back then, $50 got you a couple weeks’ worth of groceries). There are some fine examples of poetry in this book, although the excerpts below are not among them. Common themes are loneliness, love lost, love found, regret, aging, and, of course, The Darkness, with its pesky ineffable primitivities.

    Amateur Verse?

    Table 1: Amateur Verse?

    I do not criticize the poets. Their sentiments are often moving, even heart-wrenching. The NAPA exploits the poets and their emotions, however, by characterizing amateur verse (lines of dubiously metrical text) as prizewinning poetry in order to make a profit.

    Please copy the table, add your comments to mine (column 2) based on our working definition of poetry, on what you’ve learned about rhetorical devices, and on your subjective responses to the poems. E-mail your assignment to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. Feel free to disagree with my opinions and offer your justification for doing so. I will not grade your submission, but I will return it to you with comments.


    * Not to be confused with Donald Allen’s 1960 project The New American Poetry

    Next: Everybody Wants to Be Happy

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    If Only I’d Gone to Parma

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Lesson 16.1 Assignment
    Using Figures of Speech

    Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1.

    Parma in the 15th Century

    Parma in the 15th Century

    Now you are going to begin to write poetically, using the figures of speech defined in Lesson 16.

    There is no need to memorize the terms. What is important is that you become thoroughly familiar with how the elements of rhetoric are used… and that, in using many of them, you will need to reach inside, just a little… enough to call up pictures, emotions, and impressions that transform straightforward prose into poetry.

    Below you will find selected figures of speech with brief definitions and with four numbered sentences under each.

    1. A sentence.
    2. An example of the sentence recast, using the defined figure of speech.
    3. Another sentence.
    4. A place for you to recast (rephrase) the sentence, using the defined figure of speech. It’s okay if you go a little wild, deviating from the strict meaning of the sentence, if that’s where your imagination takes you.

    When you finish the assignment, please e-mail it to me at Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your assignment, but I will return it to you with comments.

    Have fun!

    Parallelism — Repetitive use of a grammatical element

    1. There was nothing I wanted more than to take a hot bath, to climb under the warm covers, and read in bed.
    2. Recast: There was nothing I wanted more than to take a hot bath, to climb under the warm covers, and to read in bed.
    3. The résumé listed her skills as watching television, sleeping late on Saturdays, and computers.
    4. Recast:

    Antithesis — Juxtaposition of opposing or contrasting ideas

    1. You pronounce the word tomato differently than I do.
    2. Jack Sprat preferred skinless chicken, so he gave the skin to his wife. She liked only the greasy parts of meat and poultry.
    3. Recast:
    Ethelred II (the Unready), King of England from 978 to 1016

    Ethelred II (the Unready), King of England from 978 to 1016

    Parenthesis — Insertion of a clarifying word or phrase within a sentence, set off by commas, dashes, or parentheses

    1. I have three sisters. The eldest one has a wart on her nose. She looks like Wanda the Witch.
    2. Recast: My eldest sister — the one with a wart on her nose — looks like Wanda the Witch.
    3. Ethelred II was king of England from 978 to 1013 and 1014 to 1016. He was called Ethelred the Unready.
    4. Recast:

    Appositive — A parenthetical element (see above) that defines or renames (is in apposition to) an adjacent element.

    1. His eyes were strange to behold. One was deep brown, the other was cobalt blue.
    2. Recast: His unmatched eyes — one deep brown, one cobalt blue — were strange to behold.
    3. Judith was the company president’s administrative assistant. She was feared throughout the organization.
    4. Recast:
    A Giant Panda in the Washington Zoo, 2004

    A Giant Panda in the Washington Zoo, 2004

    Alliteration — Repetition of the same beginning letter or sound for words in a series or in close proximity

    1. Paul turned white when panda bears touched him with their feet.
    2. Recast: Paul paled when pandas put their paws on his person.
    3. There were small waves in the river, which wound through hilly farmland.
    4. Recast:

    Assonance — Repetition of a vowel sound or similar vowel sounds

    1. Bart continued to drive west, unwilling to stay in one place.
    2. Recast: Bart kept heading west, not yet ready to settle.
    3. The flames grew higher and seemed to grin.
    4. Recast:
    Winning entry, Hairdressing Fashion Exhibition, London, 1935, by Louis Calvete

    Winning entry, Hairdressing Fashion Exhibition, London, 1935, by Louis Calvete

    Anaphora — Beginning successive clauses or phrases with the same word or group of words

    1. If only I’d gone to live in Parma when I had the opportunity. I could have traveled Europe and had adventures I’ve merely dreamed of.
    2. Recast: If only I’d gone to live in Parma. If only I’d seized the chance. If only I’d traveled Europe. If only I’d had the adventures I’ve yearned for.
    3. My grandmother was a famous movie star. She was absolutely stunning, even with the marcel waves that were trendy for the time. Accordingly, she was completely self-absorbed, with little time or inclination to be bothered with the needs of her husband and children.
    4. Recast:

    Epistrophe — Ending successive clauses with the same word or phrase

    1. They teased me, but I held my ground. When they mocked me, I didn’t even blink. Even their threats didn’t shake my resolve.
    2. Recast: They teased me, but I held my ground. When they mocked me, I held my ground. Even when they threatened me, I held my ground.
    3. They seeded the clouds, but no rain came down. The Methodists prayed, the Muslims prayed, the congregation at St. Mary Magdalene prayed; and still there was no rain.
    4. Recast:

    Apostrophe — Addressing a personified abstraction (see personification, below) or inanimate object

    1. I asked for courage to keep me steady.
    2. Recast: Courage, don’t fail me now!
    3. I wish the rain would stop now and come back some other day.
    4. Recast:
    A Sunset View of Hurricane Isidore's Rain Bands, NOAA, 2002

    A Sunset View of Hurricane Isidore's Rain Bands, NOAA, 2002

    Cacophony — Harsh-sounding passages in poetry or prose; note that harshness comes from hard consonant sounds (K, T, and CH, for example) as well as word meanings

    1. The wind was wild in the trees, blowing away all the leaves.
    2. Recast: Fierce and cruel, storm winds wracked the trees, snapping brittle leaves from their branches and flinging them across the angry sky.
    3. Weary but unable to sleep, the bereaved mother mourned alone in the night.
    4. Recast:
    Benito Mussolini, Italian Prime Minister, 1922-1943

    Benito Mussolini, Italian Prime Minister, 1922-1943

    Consonance — The repetition of consonant sounds, especially the final consonants of accented syllables, often within a short passage of verse

    1. Hester wasn’t very tall, but she was perky and fashionably dressed.
    2. Recast: Hester was short, pert, and smartly dressed.
    3. Mussolini was a cruel dictator.
    4. Recast:

    Euphony — The opposite of cacophony — pleasant-sounding, perhaps mellifluous; note that pleasing sounds come from soft consonants (such as L, R, and V) as well as word meanings

    1. The ballerina was graceful.
    2. Recast: The ballerina’s fluid movements recalled the natural grace of a lovely, lazy river.
    3. Sunday nights on the porch are my favorite times.
    4. Recast:

    Hyperbole — Exaggeration beyond reason (“Yo’ mama” jokes are hyperbolic: “Yo’ mama so fat she got her own ZIP code.”)

    1. There were hundreds of people at Ebenezer’s funeral.
    2. Recast: I think the entire population of Pennsylvania and a few surrounding states came to Ebenezer’s funeral.
    3. My Grandma Hazel has never been more than five feet tall, but she has shrunk a few inches in her old age.
    4. Recast:
    A Dissipating Thunderstorm over Kent (U.K.), 2008

    A Dissipating Thunderstorm over Kent (U.K.), 2008

    Internal rhyme — The presence of rhyming words in a single line (usually, of verse)

    1. A storm was coming, and the sky was heavy with dark clouds.
    2. Recast: The golden day turned gray and cold; the lazy clouds grew bold and threatening.
    3. Peter was angry — I could tell by the coldness of his eyes and the flush in his cheeks.
    4. Recast:

    Onomatopoeia: The quality (of a word) of sounding like what is described: the buzzing of bees, the bark of a dog; a hacking cough; hiss; murmur, thrum

    1. I didn’t need an alarm clock; the noisy birds awoke me every morning.
    2. Recast: The chirping and twittering of lively birds woke me as reliably as my jingling alarm clock.
    3. I was weary of the constant construction noise as a building went up next door.
    4. Recast:
    Spotted Python — Photo by Stewart Macdonald

    Spotted Python — Photo by Stewart Macdonald

    Sibilance — Repetition of the sound of the letter S (sometimes also the combination SH); a form of alliteration

    1. Snakes have an eerie way of making their presence known.
    2. Recast: Snakes slither into sight, hissing in their sinuous assault.
    3. My mother sang the baby to sleep.
    4. Recast:

    Simile — An explicit comparison between two things, using the word like or as

    1. When David’s little boy was abducted, David was angry and restless.
    2. Recast: When David’s little boy was abducted, David roamed the house like a hungry tiger with no prey to hunt down.
    3. My sister swished down the stairs in her stunning ball gown, looking regal.
    4. Recast:

    Metaphor — Representation of an object or idea through juxtaposition of very different things with a similar characteristic, such as describing a courageous person as having a “heart of a lion”; an implied comparison of two unlike things

    1. I was very happy.
    2. Recast: I was on top of the world.
    3. June was a rainy month.
    4. Recast:
    Cottonwood in Autumn — Photo by Mike Pedroncelli

    Cottonwood in Autumn — Photo by Mike Pedroncelli

    pathetic fallacy:
    Attributing or applying human qualities to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena

    1. The evening breeze rustled the cottonwood trees, making a pleasing, relaxing sound.
    2. Recast: The cottonwood, leaves rustling in the evening breeze, sang a lullaby.
    3. Maple trees seem maternal and nurturing to me.
    4. Recast:

    Also …

    Allegory — A sustained metaphor, carried through sentences, paragraphs, even entire works. An extended metaphor in which a story is told to illustrate an important attribute of the subject. The books Pilgrim’s Progress and The Faerie Queen are allegories.

    You don’t need to provide examples of allegories, but please keep this concept in mind as we begin writing poems later in this section.

    Next: Great poems


    Poetic Devices

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Lesson 16
    Chapter 6: Figuratively Speaking

     Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1.

    The Plays of William Shakespeare, by Sir John Gilbert, 1849
    The Plays of William Shakespeare, by Sir John Gilbert, 1849


    Figures of speech are tools of poetry. Please do not even think about memorizing this list. The most important concepts are those in bold type.

    Figures of Speech (Rhetorical Devices)

    Figures of speech are linguistic tools that turn plain writing into art. They are words or phrases used in nonliteral, unexpected ways — for any of a hundred reasons, including

    A young Robert Frost (c. 1910)

    A young Robert Frost (c. 1910)

    * emphasis
    * elaboration
    * dramatic effect
    * tone (resonance, smoothness, softness, roughness…)
    * clarity
    * deliberate ambiguity
    * shading
    * freshness
    * humor


    Figures of speech are sometimes classified as schemes and tropes. There is, as you can see, a good deal of overlap between schemes and tropes.


    Figures of speech involving the arrangement (balance, order, repetition, or omission) of words or sounds


    Parallelism-Repetitive use of a grammatical element (in the example below, repetition of gerund phrases)

    Standing on the corner, watching all the world go by;
    Standing on the corner, giving all the girls the eye. (1)

    Antithesis-Juxtaposition of opposing or contrasting ideas

    When they met, Alice was pure uptown; Jake was down on his luck.

    Word Order

    Anastrophe-Departure from usual word order

    [Death] dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell —John Donne (1572-1631), Holy Sonnet 10 (“Death, be not proud”)

    Anne Lamott (www.metroactive.com)

    Anne Lamott (www.metroactive.com)

    Parenthesis — A clarifying word or phrase within a sentence, set off by commas, dashes, or parentheses

    My friend, the writer I was so jealous of, would call and say, like some Southern belle, “I just don’t know why God is giving me so much money this year.” Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird (2)

    Four of the church’s elders — all women — …were having a prayer meeting. — Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

    Appositive — A parenthetical element that defines or renames (is in apposition to) an adjacent element (In the example below, the “something” that “glittered in her eyes” was “tears or old memories.”)

    Something glittered in her eyes — tears or old memories…. — Nora Roberts, Genuine Lies


    Ellipsis — Omission of words, usually indicated by … (At the end of a sentence, the period is added, as in the examples below.)

    If she knew he was still dealing with Delrickio…. Well, he didn’t have to worry there. — Nora Roberts, Genuine Lies

    Well, you know what they say: “When in Rome….”


    Alliteration — Repetition of the same beginning letter or sound for words in a series or in close proximity

    Was he not unmistakably a little man? A creature of the petty rake-off, pocketed with a petty joke in private and denied with the stainless platitudes in his public utterances.” — C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

    Little Lea, the childhood home of C. S. Lewis, in East Belfast

    Little Lea, the childhood home of C. S. Lewis, in East Belfast

    Assonance — Repetition of a vowel sound or similar vowel sounds

    Those images that yet
    Fresh images beget,
    That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea. — W. B. Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium” (The poem opens with the words, “That is no country for old men,” from which American author Cormac McCarthy drew the title of his 2005 novel. The film adaptation 2007 film adaptation earned four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. 

    Anaphora — Beginning successive clauses or phrases with the same word or group of words

    I am neither Christian nor Jew, neither Zoroastrian nor Muslim,
    I am not from east or west, not from land or sea,
    not from the shafts of nature nor from the spheres of the firmament,
    not of the earth, not of water, not of air, not of fire. — Rumi

    Epistrophe — The same word or phrase used to end consecutive clauses. (The following example illustrates both anaphora [“They compassed me about”] and epistrophe.)

    And all nations compassed me about: but in the name of the Lord will I destroy them.
    They compassed me about; yea, they compassed me about: but in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.
    They compassed me about like bees; they are quenched as the fire of thorns: for in the name of the Lord I will destroy them. —
    Psalm 118:10-12


    * aposiopesis: A break or pause in speech for dramatic effect

    Paul grabbed hold of Haffner’s shirt, tearing seams. “If you had anything to do with Eve’s murder — ”
    — Nora Roberts, Genuine Lies

    * apostrophe: Addressing a personified abstraction or inanimate object

    0 Star (the fairest one in sight),
    We grant your loftiness the right
    To some obscurity of cloud —
    It will not do to say of night,
    Since dark is what brings out your light. —
    Robert Frost, “Take Something Like a Star”

    * cacophony: Harsh-sounding passages in poetry or prose

    ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
    All mimsy were the borogoves,
    And the mome raths outgrabe. — Lewis Carroll, “Jabberwocky

    * consonance: The repetition of consonant sounds, especially the final consonants of accented syllables, often within a short passage of verse

    An Arizona Arbor in Summer

    An Arizona Arbor in Summer

    This is why I live here,
    this immaculate occasion once
    a day. Desert turns to fairyland,
    early-morning light turns drab
    dead gray to glory, wind stirs
    sunlit leaves like thirty kinds of
    lettuce, green and gold, green
    and gold, limb motion whispers;
    creosote and squat mesquite
    quiver in devotion —
    sweet-smelling, sunlight-drenched, still
    cool and fresh and equal to the
    coming heat. —
    Mary Campbell, “An Arizona Arbor in Summer”

    * enjambment: A breaking of a syntactic unit (a phrase, clause, or sentence) by the end of a line or between two verses.

    I wonder — How can people find
    the world such a contaminated
    kind of place when sunlight
    reaches into every pore of
    being — sanctifying, desiccating foul
    detritus of anxiety and indolence? — Mary Campbell, “An Arizona Arbor in Summer”

    * euphony: The opposite of cacophony — pleasant sounding, perhaps mellifluous

    Lord Byron's House in Southwell, Nottinghamshire

    Lord Byron's house in Southwell, Nottinghamshire

    One shade the more, one ray the less,
    Had half impair’d the nameless grace
    Which waves in every raven tress
    Or softly lightens o’er her face,
    Where thoughts serenely sweet express
    How pure, how dear their dwelling-place. — Lord Byron, “She Walks in Beauty, Like the Night”

    * homographs: Words that are identical in spelling but different in origin and meaning

    Claire ripped the ruffle off her petticoat and wound it around the delirious soldier’s wound.

    * homonyms: Words that are identical with each other in pronunciation and spelling, but differing in origin and meaning.

    key: “metal piece that works a lock,” from O.E. cæg
    key: “low island,” 1697, from Sp. cayo “shoal, reef” (3 )

    * homophones: Words that are identical with each other in pronunciation but differing in origin and meaning (led and lead, for example)

    * hyperbole: Exaggeration beyond reason (“Yo’ mamma” jokes are hyperbolic: “Yo’ mamma so fat she got her own ZIP code.”)

    * isocolon: Juxtaposition of parallel structures of the same length in adjacent clauses: “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”

    * internal rhyme: The presence of rhyming words in a single line of verse

    children, hyacinths, and roses, cucumbers, and peppers
    grow, and snowy linens hung to dry are blowing in the
    breeze. Inside, bread rises in the oven, herbs depend from
    oaken beams, and last night’s chicken in its steaming broth
    becomes this evening’s stew,
    tomorrow’s casserole. — Mary Campbell, “On This Side”

    Yeast bread rising before baking

    Yeast bread rising before baking

    * non sequitur: A statement that marks an abrupt, and often puzzling, change of subject

    * onomatopoeia: The quality (of a word) of sounding like what is described: the buzzing of bees, the bark of a dog; a hacking cough; hiss; murmur, thrum

    * pun: Use of a word or phrase in two different senses at the same time

    * sibilance: Alliteration in which the letter or sound of S is repeated

    * superlative: Unequaled; uttermost

    * spoonerism: Interchanging of (usually initial) letters of words with amusing effect (“Madam, may I sew you to your sheet?”)

    * tautology: Redundancy due to superfluous qualification; saying the same thing twice (“Sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do”; “I decided to go to New York because it was my decision to go to New York.”)

    * tmesis: Division of the elements of a compound or other multisyllabic word (Example: “Hoo-freaking-ray”)


    Ellipsis — Omission of words, usually indicated by … (At the end of a sentence, the period is added, as in the examples below.)

    If she knew he was still dealing with Delrickio…. Well, he didn’t have to worry there. —Nora Roberts, Genuine Lies

    Well, you know what they say: “When in Rome….”


    In linguistics, trope is a rhetorical figure of speech that consists of a play on words — that is, using a word in a way other than what is considered its literal or expected form. The other major category of figures of speech is the scheme (see above), which involves changing the pattern of words in a sentence.

    Trope comes from a Greek word meaning “a turn, a change.” We can imagine a trope as a way of turning a word away from its normal meaning, or turning it into something else.

    Types of Tropes

    Metonymy — Using a word associated with an object or idea for the object or idea itself (e.g., referring to actions of the U.S. president as “actions of the White House”)

    Irony — A word are phrase used in a way that is opposite to its standard meaning, such as describing poverty as “good times”

    Simile — An explicit comparison between two things using the word like or as (“When she was angry, she was as fierce as a tiger,” and “When she was angry, she was like a tiger” are examples of simile; “When she was angry, she was a tiger” exemplifies a metaphor.)

    Mom was (metaphorically) a tiger

    Mom was (metaphorically) a tiger

    Metaphor — Representation of an object or idea — often intangible —using a tangible, dissimilar substitute (“My mother had a cocker spaniel’s eyes and a lion’s heart.”)

    Synecdoche — Related to metonymy and metaphor, creates a play on words by referring to something with a related concept: for example, referring to the whole with the name of a part, such as “hired hands” for workers; a part with the name of the whole, such as “the law” for police officers; the general with the specific, such as “bread” for food; the specific with the general, such as “cat” for a lion; or an object with the material it is made from, such as “bricks and mortar” for a building

    Allegory — A sustained metaphor, carried through entire stories, sometimes even long works of literature, such as The Faerie Queen. An extended metaphor in which a story is told to illustrate an important attribute of the subject. Aesop’s Fables are usually short allegories.


    * allusion: An indirect reference to a quotation, event, or work of literature. “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more” is a common allusion to Judy Garland’s famous line in the (1939) film version of The Wizard of Oz

    Judy Garland, as Dorothy, in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz

    Judy Garland, as Dorothy, in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz

    * anthimeria: The substitution of one part of speech for another, often turning a noun into a verb

    * anthropomorphism: A word or phrase that ascribes human characteristics to something that is not human, such as an animal or a god (see zoomorphism)

    * aphorism: A tersely phrased statement of a truth or opinion, an adage

    * aporia: Deliberating with oneself, often with the use of rhetorical questions

    To be, or not to be: that is the question:
    Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
    And by opposing end them? William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1

    * archaism: Use of an obsolete, archaic, word (a word used in olden language)

    * catachresis: A mixed metaphor (sometimes used on purpose and sometimes by mistake)

    * circumlocution: “Talking around” a topic by substituting or adding words, as in euphemism or periphrasis

    * commiseration: Evoking pity in the audience.

    * double negative: Redundant repetition of negative words (“I don’t have no money.”)

    * dysphemism: Substitution of a harsher, more offensive, or more disagreeable term for another. Opposite of euphemism.

    * erotema: Synonym for rhetorical question

    * euphemism: Substitution of a less offensive or more agreeable term for another (e.g., downsizing for layoffs)

    * hypophora: Answering one’s own rhetorical question at length

    * innuendo: Sly suggestion; hidden meaning

    * invocation: An apostrophe to a god or muse

    * malapropism: Confusing a word with another word that sounds similar (“Put your hand in the hand of the man who spilled the water.”)

    * meiosis: Use of understatement, usually to diminish the importance of something

    * metonymy: Substitution of a related word or phrase for a larger idea.

    Many standard items of vocabulary are metonymic. A red-letter day is important, like the feast days marked in red on church calendars. Red tide, the marine disease that kills fish, takes its name from the color of one-celled, plantlike animals in the water…. On the level of slang, a redneck is a stereotypical member of the white rural working class in the Southern U.S., originally a reference to necks sunburned from working in the fields. — Connie C. Eble, “Metonymy,” The Oxford Companion to the English Language, 1992

    * neologism: The use of a word or term that has recently been created, or has been in use for a short time. Opposite of archaism.

    * oxymoron: Contradiction in terms; using two terms together that normally contradict each other (e.g., “sour sweetness”)

    * parable: An extended metaphor told as an anecdote to illustrate or teach a moral lesson

    * paradox: Use of apparently contradictory ideas to point out some underlying truth

    * parallel irony: An ironic juxtaposition of sentences or situations (informal)

    * paralipsis: Drawing attention to something while pretending to pass it over

    * pathetic fallacy: Ascribing human actions or feelings to nonhuman objects

    * periphrasis: Using several words instead of few

    * personification/prosopopoeia/anthropomorphism: Attributing or applying human qualities to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena (see pathetic fallacy)

    * proverb: A succinct or pithy expression of what is commonly observed and believed to be true

    * rhetorical question: A query that doesn’t require an answer

    * superlative: Uttermost: the ugliest, the most precious, etc.

    * synecdoche: A form of metonymy in which a part stands for the whole (Example: “Keep your nose out of my business.”)

    * truism: A self-evident statement

    * zoomorphism: Animal characteristics ascribed to humans or gods


    1 From the song “Standing on the Corner,” by Frank Loesser 1956), composed for the Broadway Musical The Most Happy Fella. Recorded by the pop quartet the Four Lads, it reached number 3 on the charts that year.

    2 The parenthetical phrase “the writer I was so jealous of” is also an appositive; it is in apposition to “my friend.”

    3 Online Etymology Dictionary, http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=key, accessed May 20, 2008

    Next: If Only I’d Gone to Parma


    Sprinkling Happiness Dust

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Lesson 14

    Chapter 4: Me, Myself, and I
    Part 5: Beyond Self-Knowledge

    Red Lady

    Red Lady

     Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1.

    We’ve established—or at least I have and you’ve followed along—that it’s possible for me to see parts of myself, integrate these with direct and indirect feedback from people I respect, and come up with a rough idea of “who I am” at any given moment, which is my “self-concept.” (It’s important to remember, as Eckhart Tolle points out, that one’s self-concept is largely content, not essence.)

    My self-concept might be positive (I’m a beautiful spirit sprinkling happiness dust everywhere I go), negative (I’m a slimy warthog), or somewhere in between.

    Liking myself is not precisely happiness, but it’s close. Again, despite the fact that my knowledge of myself is limited, despite the fact that I can’t simultaneously “see” myself and “be seen by” myself  — as much as possible, I need to live in harmony with myself.

    How I Learned to Live in Harmony with My Nose

    When the angels were putting me together on the Great Heavenly Assembly Line, somebody got some of the parts mixed up and I got the wrong nose. I have a very small face and a largish nose. Not only was it unsightly, it made kissing awkward and inconvenient. For a long time I didn’t like myself, nosewise.

    It is not conducive to happiness to be filled with loathing and disgust every time you look in the mirror. My choices, as I saw them, were to (a) stop noticing my nose, (b) have my nose made surgically smaller or the rest of my face made larger, or (c) do things with makeup and face putty and other artificial means to achieve better balance among my facial features.

    A Child's Nose (Not Mine)

    A Child's Nose (Not Mine)

    My sister solved the problem by commenting one day that our noses (hers and mine are similar) are Scottish. Having a Scottish nose appealed to me. It was part of my distinguished heritage.

    I dealt with the kissing dilemma by developing a deft nasal-dodge technique and by choosing, as kissing partners, men whose noses are as prominent as mine.


    Summing up: I want to be happy. I am happiest when I am experiencing harmony within myself and in my environment – inside and outside, in other words. The choices I make have a lot to with the harmony I experience. To make wise choices, I need to know myself as well as possible.

    The Unselfish Automobile and the Good Christian

    When I was a child in Presbyterian Sunday school, I was taught that being a good Christian means being unselfish. Somehow I interpreted this to mean that my wants and needs were unimportant… that I had been put on earth exclusively to Serve Others.

    This was a troubling concept, but it didn’t cause much of a problem until I was out of my teens. During one’s adolescence, it’s almost impossible not to be self-centered and self-aware. I think it’s a hormonal thing.

    By the time I was twenty, I was married with an infant. Total self-abnegation is a poor basis for marriage and motherhood. I was a slave to my husband and my baby. I was unhappy – but wasn’t that okay, since God wanted me to Serve Others and to be Unselfish?

    At that time I owned a 1960 Mercury Comet. Like me, my Mercury had been created to serve. It was unselfish. But in order to serve, its basic needs had to be met. It needed fuel. It had a hydraulic clutch (or something) that needed to be filled from time to time. It needed regular oil changes. It required maintenance and occasional repairs.

    Eventually I learned that I too required maintenance and occasional repairs. Without receiving, I became unable to give.

    Over the years, I have learned that giving and receiving are inseparable. Think of a lake that has an outlet – a stream flowing out of it – but no source of fresh water. Soon the lake will dry up. It will no longer be able to sustain fish or waterfowl. It will have no beauty to be enjoyed. It will be unable to cool and entertain swimmers on hot summer days.

    When I discovered that I, like the Mercury Comet and the lake, had needs that could not be ignored, I learned a great deal about myself and about how the world works. Knowing myself better, I took better care of myself. I made wiser choices. I was happier, and so were the people around me.

    I now believe that people – women and men alike – should always treat themselves as if they are pregnant. Caring for oneself beautifully and wisely during pregnancy is, as it happens, the best way to care for one’s developing fetus. And I believe that there is a sense in which we are all, always, “pregnant” with our future selves. We carry inside us the seeds of what we will become.

    You are who you pretend to be

    You must be the change you wish to see in the world. —Mohandas Gandhi

    Through self-knowledge we can achieve temporary equilibrium. Sometimes equilibrium is enough. Constant challenges become struggles. We need rest between stretches. This is why God created day and night, summer and winter, cycles of all kinds.

    Ultimately, however, as living things we must grow or die. And we have some—though not absolute—freedom to choose what direction our growth will take.

    The antihero of Mother Night, one of the late Kurt Vonnegut’s lesser-known novels, is Howard W. Campbell, an American expatriate living in Germany before World War II. An ultra-deep-cover American agent recruits Campbell to spy for the Allies and, posing as a Nazi propagandist, to encode his discoveries in his radio broadcasts. When Campbell agrees, he is warned never to contact the agent.

    Kurt Vonnegut
    Kurt Vonnegut

    Campbell, it develops, is a very good spy and transmits a great deal of valuable information to the Allies. He is also a very good propagandist.

    After the war, Campbell returns to the U.S. with a new identity but a lingering angst. Many years pass before he is “outed” and prosecuted as the notorious traitor and brilliant Nazi propagandist. Desperate, Campbell seeks out the agent who recruited him—the man who alone can vindicate him.

    The agent agrees to corroborate Campbell’s story—that he was acting as a patriot, transmitting Nazi secrets for the benefit of the Allies. Campbell is off the hook, but as they part for the last time, the recruiter makes this cryptic comment: “You are who you pretend to be.”

    About six months ago I began to notice that my two-year-old granddaughter repeated everything I said, posing it as a question, trying the words and the phrasing of them on for size. We were at her bedroom window, and I was holding her up so she could see her mom outside, helping load a pile of dirt into a pickup truck.

    Ava: What’s Mommy doing?

    Me: She’s helping those people load that dirt into their truck.

    Ava: Helping dose people load dat dirt into dehr truck?

    Me: Yes. It’s nice, clean dirt, good for gardens.

    Ava: Nice, clean dirt, good for gardens?

    I also noticed that Ava would dog her dad’s footsteps, trying to imitate his stride. And I saw her smile with one side of her mouth, the way her mother does sometimes.

    I wrote the following poem for my sons as a Christmas present, framing it along with photos of their two-year-olds (one, Ava, obviously is a girl; the other, Ryder, is a boy; I changed the gender as appropriate in the versions of the poem I used for each son):

    He Will Be Like You

    Ryder and Dad Eli

    Ryder and Dad Eli

    He watches every move you make—how else
    to learn but imitate?—the way you speak and
    move through life, your head held high to find
    your polestar in the sky and take no notice
    of the grime beneath your feet. Thus will he learn
    serenity and find his place above the petty and the
    mean. Then from you will he learn to soar, and
    know that there is more than senses can perceive,
    and all is as it needs to be this moment in the
    universe. He watches you embrace adversity and
    knows that life is hard, but necessarily, to
    grow, to shine, to gain the victory. So you pursue
    your course on higher ground, and not for him
    alone, but to regain your innocence; spurn guilt,
    have no regret; for Jesus said: We learn and then
    move on, for God accepts the consequences in
    our stead—repentance, then forgiveness, then the
    grace that takes away the blemish. That is, after
    all, the Gospel, and its promise is: All things are
    possible; all souls have


    To a great extent, children become who they are by imitating, which is a form of pretending. Adults do too, though not usually as dramatically. My friend Janet moved from Texas to Nebraska many years ago. Her once-thick Texas accent is faint now, except when she’s tired or excited. Another friend, Carol, is a New Hampshire native who has lived most of her adult life in Arizona, yet she sounds as if she has just arrived from New England.

    I confess that, in difficult situations, I often pretend to be someone whom I admire and who I know would handle the problem skillfully. When tact and maturity are called for, I am Jessica Fletcher of the television series Murder, She Wrote. When insouciance and utter self-confidence are necessary, I am Miss Piggy. When a situation requires merciless and quick decisiveness (rather than my innate tendency to examine a problem from every possible aspect), I am Doctor Laura.

    Miss Piggy

    Miss Piggy

    This isn’t hypocrisy, nor is it sham. Whatever it is in me that admires Miss Piggy is like her. I can practice being insouciant and sassy just as I can practice sitting up straight instead of slouching.

    “Knowing our limitations” doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep testing them if there is an advantage to doing so—especially when what were once our strengths no longer work for us. When I was young and cute and smart and a bit brash, I had instant credibility on the job. It came as a huge shock when, in my bejowled mid-fifties — and smarter than ever — I took a new job and found that I had to prove myself from scratch.

    This is why we have to keep learning, growing, and adapting—doing what we do well to remain confident, but also stretching, “reinventing” ourselves if need be, to adjust to changes in ourselves and our environments.

    Assignment 14.1: An exercise in allegory—You in a box

    Imagine that you have always lived alone in a box that has no windows or doors. The box is flimsy — you could easily kick a hole in any wall — but breaking out of your box would never occur to you. As far as you know, the inside of the box is all there is.

    Everyone on your planet lives in a box pretty much like yours. There are light and air in these boxes, but each of you can see, smell, touch, and taste only the objects inside your box. The only stimulus that reaches you from outside is noise. You can hear the voices of your neighbors, though of course they have little meaning for you.

    So that’s the scenario. How does it feel? Fun? Boring? Restful? Safe? Scary?

    Pretty dismal, I’d imagine, for those of us who don’t live exclusively in boxes (as far as we know) — but perfectly natural to the hypothetical you, the You in the Box, because it’s all you’ve ever known. You have a comfortable bed, plenty to eat, and room to move around.(1) You have several ways to occupy your time: suddoku, maybe, or houseplant gardening, crocheting, shooting baskets….

    Your Box and Your Neighbor's

    Your Box and Your Neighbor's

    The contents of every box are similar but not identical.(2) For one thing, all the stuff in your neighbor’s box, including your neighbor, is mauve, whereas you and your possessions are sky blue. But the color of your neighbor’s environment is irrelevant: You don’t even know you have a neighbor, nor could you understand the concept of color. In your world, there’s no such thing as “not–sky blue” or “not–color.”(3) There is no context for your perception of color.

    Quickie exercise: Try defining or describing something without giving it context; that is, without comparing or contrasting it to something else. (Hint: Can’t be done. The unknown can be imagined only as it relates to the known.)

    What Is a ‘Julia Roberts’?

    Chris and Adam

    Chris and Adam

    My niece’s wonderful husband, Adam, is tall. He has many other fine attributes, but tallness might be the one you’d notice first, especially if my wonderful niece Chris were beside him; there’s a difference of eighteen inches, give or take, in their height.

    Now, when I say “Adam is tall,” there is no need for me to add “…compared to other people but not compared to cypress trees.” The context of Adam’s tallness (people, as opposed to giraffes) is understood.

    But if Adam were several stories tall, imagine the employment possibilities! More to the point—the words “Adam is tall” would be inadequate for even the most basic physical description. To give you an idea of Adam’s appearance, I would have to provide context. Even saying “Adam is the tallest man in the world” wouldn’t suffice. You’d be thinking, maybe, nine feet, tops. I’d have to say, for example, “Adam is taller than twelve average-size men standing on each other’s shoulders” for you to even begin to get the picture.

    My daughter, Marian (left); Julia Roberts (right)

    My daughter, Marian (left); Julia Roberts (right)

    Likewise, if I tell you that my daughter looks like Julia Roberts, and you have no idea what Julia Roberts looks like, then I have to find another way to describe her appearance, comparing her to people or things you’re familiar with.




    You’re drinking lemonade and I’m thirsty, but I’m leery of lemonade, never having tasted it. “You’ll like it,” you say. “It’s sweet.” But “sweet,” in my limited experience, describes my Aunt Persis’s homemade fudge, of which you, more’s the pity, have never known the bliss. I happen to have a piece of that fudge and I’m willing to share it with you. You say, “Ugh! It looks like mud.” I reply, “Well, your lemonade looks like pee.”

    For you to know the joy of Aunt Persis’s homemade fudge, and for me to quench my thirst, we have to find ways to describe “lemonade” and “fudge” in terms we both understand. Most likely, we’ll use similes:(4) Lemonade is tart, like a persimmon. Fudge is chewy, like the meat of a ripe walnut.

    The point here is that nothing is inherently manifest to the rational mind. In the realm of logic, nothing reveals itself or discloses its identity absolutely: not people, not inanimate objects, not concepts such as sweetness. We can conceive of them only in terms of their similarities to other things—in effect, as metaphors.(5)

    None of us has an absolute identity that exists in a vacuum. It might be said that in all of existence God is the only nonmetaphor. Only God is simply “I am.”

    You in a box (continued): Let your imagination run wild

    Having spent your entire life inside this sky-blue box, your perceptions of yourself and the universe are likely to be very different from those of a person who has lived as you and I have lived — walking into and out of each other’s houses, freely conversing face to face, being aware of a great variety of colors, shapes, sizes, and phenomena. Take a minute to think about how the You of the Sky-Blue Box might be different from the “actual” you. For example,

    • If you hear voices from the mauve box next door, you might not perceive of those voices as coming from “somewhere else.” You would have no concept of “outside the box.” The box would be your entire universe.
    • You probably wouldn’t perceive the voices as coming from other beings like you. You might take the voices for granted and not wonder about them at all.
    • You might not even perceive a difference between your “self” — your identity, as distinct from your physical body — and the objects in your box.
    • As communication with other people in other boxes evolves and you develop a language, agreeing upon words for things like “bed” and “kneecap,” you discover that the voices are relating experiences different from yours. For the first time, perhaps, you have a sense of yourself as one among others.
    • Or perhaps, given what we know or suspect about collective consciousness, might you not somehow be aware of the nearness of others like yourself?

    Exercise: You of the Sky-Blue Box (choose one of the following)

    • Write a scenario, similar to those in the bullet points above, that might describe how the You of the Sky-Blue Box would be different from the “actual” you.
    • Describe what it might it be like if you woke up one day and your refrigerator were yellow instead of sky blue.
    • Describe how your reaction to the change in color might be different if it were gradual rather than sudden.
    • Describe how you might feel…
      if an opening to the outside appeared one morning, and there were nothing outside but light — not unlike the light in your box — but you were able to walk around your box and see it from the outside
      if the next day other windowless, doorless boxes appeared
      if the day after that you saw that trees and flowers had grown among the boxes. (Do you think they would look beautiful to you? Or would they frighten you? Having led such a sheltered existence, would you want to explore them, or perhaps try to hide from them instead?)

    • Think of other possible changes in your Sky-Blue Box universe and imagine different ways in which you might react to them.
      Describe one such variation.
      How would your answer to the question “Who am I?” change?
      How would your perception of the universe change?
      What would you do differently in response to your new perceptions of yourself and the universe?

    Assignment 14.2: Defining figures of speech

    Define, in your own words, allegory, metaphor, and simile. Draw your definitions from at least two sources. Summarize the differences among allegories, metaphors, and similes.

    Separating and reuniting

    The little story “You in a box” is a very rough allegory for human personality development. When a fetus enters the world as an infant, the physical separation from the mother is the beginning of a series of physical and psychological separations.

    These separations are exhilarating because they lead to freedom. They are terrifying because they lead to isolation.

    I believe that

    • without God, to be completely free is to be completely alone, whereas
    • with God, freedom leads inevitably to relationships based on love rather than need and fear.

    (1)      Your source of food, fresh air, and other necessities is outside the scope of this allegory. Sorry.

    (2)      I know this because I am the Omniscient Narrator.

    (3)      If you ever want to give yourself a really bad headache, try to invent a new color. It’s impossible. All you can do is imagine different combinations of red, yellow, and blue, plus black and white. Yet surely, somewhere “out there” in the vast unknown, there are other colors, obeying laws of physics yet to be encountered.

    (4)       simile (noun): a comparison of one thing with another using the word like or as. [A particular type of software] is as ugly as a sack full of penguin guts. —Bruce Sterling

    (5)      metaphor (noun): a figure of speech in which two things are compared by saying one thing is another. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,/ But to be young was very Heaven! —William Wordsworth, The Prelude