Klinkenborg Writes About Metaphor

metaphors be with you

My critique partner in Corpus Christi and I are reading Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg. I’m opening the book at random instead of reading it cover to cover. Today, on p. 43 the topic was metaphor. Klinkenborg states that often metaphors are like

“A stage prop, a paraphrase, a clarification, at best,

Nearly always cumbersome, bordering on cliche,

Almost always timid, rarely serious, usually self-conscious,

And too often stretched out over three or four sentences

In order to create an extended metaphor,

Which is a cruel analogical death.”

Yes, he wrote with commas and capitals after them in the visual form of a poem. And, it’s a very long sentence in a book about short sentences. But as he continues, it’s one of the best ways to think of metaphors that I’ve read.

“A true metaphor is a swift and violent twisting of language,

A renaming of the already named.

It’s meant to expire in a sudden flash of light

And to reveal–in that burst of illumination–

A correspondence that must be literally accurate.

Any give in the metaphor, any indeterminacy,

And it becomes a cloud of smoke, not a flash of light.

Like any rhetorical device, the less you use it, the more

effective it is.”

I admire one writer who uses metaphor on every page and meets the description above with mastery in her book The Mermaid’s Chair. That writer is Sue Monk Kidd.

Have you read a metaphor that didn’t quite make the “flash” that Klinkenborg calls it?


Filed under Rhetorical device

2 responses to “Klinkenborg Writes About Metaphor

  1. ladywinfred

    Loving Klinkenborg. And now I have to go back and re-read Kidd’s The Mermaid Chair for a lesson in perfect metaphor creation. Dear, dear. So much to learn, so little time.


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