Barriers to hope

I like this metaphor in which a looming shape in the fog evokes a barrier to hope.  That said, may you be free of looming shapes in the fog and anything standing in the way of hope. ‘It loomed through the fog like a great barrier to hope.’ Source: Elizabeth Gaskell,...

Off the peg thoughts

A fine metaphor for a mind incapable of original thought or phrasing.  The lady has a stock of ready-made comments to offer on almost any topic, allowing her to appear suitably interested or charmed without actually requiring any comprehension or knowledge on her...

Grating tones and scraping slates

The early 19th century equivalent of scratching chalk down a blackboard, setting your teeth on edge.  Molly is one of the most authentic characters in English literature, and can’t get used to the sugar-sweet falseness of her stepmother. ‘All this was said in that...

Mind as mirror

Mrs Kirkpatrick is a wonderful character in one of Elizabeth Gaskell’s finest novels. Published in 1860 soon after her sudden death, it has the human warmth and playfulness of English novels half a century before. In particular, it bears a striking resemblance to the...

Faded colours of an old fresco

An unusual metaphor for the slow mood change effected by months of winter weather – like cold water thrown at a faded fresco to bring out the colour. ‘These changes in humour and disposition, here described all at once, were in themselves a series of delicate...

From Troy to Chicago

Some of the Greek warriors occasionally behave like gangsters, so I liked this 1920s image of a gangster in a striped suit slumped in a big barber’s chrome and leather chair. ‘Bent like a gangster in his barber’s chair.’ Source: Christopher Logue, War Music: An...

The thinker, with his metaphors, will illuminate the external world through intangible ideas that for him are intimate and immediate.   

 

Source: Jorge Luis Borges, On Writing, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2010, p. 6

More metaphors for those who missed these earlier posts.   Enjoy!

 

When autumn takes the Dnieper by the arm

One of the wondrous aspects of Homer are the extended metaphors, taking in four, eight, ten lines, building a whole scenario before your eyes, before likening it to the actual scene or events being described.  Logue has taken this in his stride, and refreshingly uses...

Faces like NO ENTRY signs

Another example of Logue’s easy use of contemporary images to bring us up close and personal to the battle beach of Troy. Yesterday, standing in a shop waiting to be served, I noticed that one of the shop staff stood behind her computer with a NO ENTRY sign face to...

Like a baby’s shawl

What a soft, enveloping cloud this must have been, of a gentle pastel hue.  Chill autumn morning here, and I happen to be sitting with a fleecy such shawl around my shoulders. ‘Cloud, like a baby’s shawl.’ Source: Christopher Logue, War Music: An account of Books 1-4...

Architecture that shouts for joy

A beautiful description of a church, capturing a soaring, up-swooping roof, and the exhilaration it can bring to the onlooker. ‘Arches that sprang upwards like a shout of joy to meet the grand upward curve of the vaulted roof.’ Source: Elizabeth Goudge, The Little...

Half-moon mouth, rat-trap jaw

Describing the kindly, proud dwarf cook, Marmaduke Scarlet.  I liked the juxtaposition of his generosity and determination and the connection of both to his mouth, whether open in a warm smile, or rat-trap slammed shut when he was determined. ‘His large mouth was a...

Beloved Sir Benjamin

The old, fat, warm-hearted cousin of the young heroine.  Both Merryweathers, he of the sun type, she of the moon. She's an orphan and he takes her under his wing, providing her and her governess a safe, warm, welcoming, magical home.  He takes to her quickly, noting...

Audible odours

An unforgettable description of a pungent odour, in this case, the fish head brought home for the cat by Digweed, the steward and coachman. ‘The cod’s head had the sort of smell that one could almost hear.’ Source: Elizabeth Goudge, The Little White Horse, illus. C....

Chopping and changing

I like how Logue places the words so they don’t flow smoothly but themselves wallop, slap back, chop and change, in the random and self-contradictory motion with which the sea slaps and recoils when cliff-stopped.   ‘Chopping and changing as a cliff-stopped sea...

Free to go

Please, if you read and enjoy this vivid metaphor, do me the favour of using it at least once so we can see if it can enter mainstream usage.  It could give a rest to the slightly worn ‘I need that like I need a hole in the head’.  You’d get more attention to your...

The wave foreseen

A magnificent image of a proud and then crashing wave, thundering up a shaken coast, and used to signify the answering cheer of troops.   ‘And why, I cannot say, but as he sat Our answering cheer was like the wave foreseen, When, crest held high, it folds And...

A shire-sized dust-sheet

The tearing of a dust-sheet isn’t an obvious sound to describe the dis-scabbarding of a Greek sword, and then Logue renders it even more striking by adding that singularly English ‘shire-sized’.  Be good to see ‘shire-sized’ occasionally displace ‘humungous’ and other...

As quiet as…

Elsewhere Logue uses light as the simile for silence – ‘as quiet as air’ – but I also loved this image of children completely absorbed in creating pictures. ‘All were as quiet as children drawing.’ Source: Christopher Logue, War Music, London: Faber and Faber, 2001,...

Diplomacy and dogs

This rich if none too favourable description of the Greeks – ‘hatched from the slag we cast five centuries ago’ - has a couple of fine metaphors, including ‘our speech like footless crockery in their mouths’ and the idea that an offer of diplomacy is like ‘giving...

Plucking chickens in Australia

One of the inventive elements of Logue’s metaphors is the way he mixes up eras, blithely planting a country called Australia in an ancient Greek context. And the idea of wind plucking chickens adds another layer of originality. ‘It was so quiet in Heaven that you...

Achilles’ face

This is an intriguing description of a face – I see a chalk-white face with a lion’s mane of golden hair encircling it.  Roaring wheat! ‘Achilles’ face Is like a chalkpit fringed with roaring wheat.’ Source: Christopher Logue, War Music, London: Faber and Faber, 2001,...

As quiet as…

Christopher Logue’s vivid, muscular version of some episodes in the Iliad abounds with striking metaphors – I noted about 60 that leapt at me with their verve and originality, in a slim book of under 200 pages. Many of them are short and simple and should easily slip...

Ajax and Alamein

Logue’s rendering of Homer is powerful because he makes it immediate, either by transporting you through sheer force of description to the battlefield before Troy, or by air-lifting you in an instant from a scene three thousand years ago to something that happened...

For love of Ajax

Nine words, three sentences, and you see Ajax before you and how he is seen by thousands of Greek soldiers. And then that contemporary metaphor linking his war-gear to landing gear: eyelets like runway lights!  Zesty stuff. ‘Ajax is loved.  I mean it.  He is loved....

Baby as bubble

Downright Shakespearean this phrase: pregnancy as belly-bubble on a dame.  The implication being I Was Already Doing ABC when you weren’t even born. ‘When you were what? – A bubble on a dam?’ Christopher Logue, War Music: An account of Books 1-4 and 16-19 of Homer’s...

On dry humour

This evokes oak paneled rooms in ancient colleges, and the quiet clinking of glasses interspersed with the odd guffaw. ‘A humor as dry as fino sherry.’ Source: Harry Eyres, Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013),...

Potent as…

I vote for this to enter standard speech, even if you question the power of a pope in modern times. Source: Harry Eyres, Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), p. 46

Woven hillsides, tapestried landscapes

What a lovely metaphor for a carefully crafted landscape, stitched together row by row over centuries. ‘But the vineyards of the Mosel glow like a medieval tapestry; they look as if they have been stitched to the hillside.’ Source: Harry Eyres, Horace and Me: Life...

Plump as…

Another one that deserves to enter daily speech – it conjures a sturdy pottery beer mug served in an 18th century English tavern with a roaring fire. Source: Harry Eyres, Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), p....

Dandelion-steeped sunlight

What a heart-warming image of sun-washed memories. May you and your memories be dandelion-steeped in sunlight. ‘Those memorable days that move in procession … the most of them are full-eyed as the dandelion that from dawn to shade has steeped itself in sunlight.’...

A bright guarantee

Many who have seen hope return and fears dissolve under the bright light of morning may appreciate this notion of a ‘bright guarantee of God’. ’Light came from the east,  /  bright guarantee of God, and the waves  /  went quiet.’ Source: Beowulf, Seamus Heaney...

St Helena in the nursery

Napoleon’s exile invoked to stand for banishment to the nursery. But the visitor deserved the rudeness. She had been enumerating the endless faults of the male sex, including lack of sensibility or consideration. She then swirled her silk gown and sent the boy’s...

Walking like a baobab

What a wonderful and appropriate metaphor, set in a land where baobab trees grow. ‘His steps were like a baobab pulling up its own roots.’ Source: Mia Couto, The Tuner of Silences, trans. David Brookshaw (Biblioasis, 2012 (2009)), p. 17

A clinging sound

What a description of a sound that can’t be unheard. 'That noise was to cling to his inner ear like moss on a sunless wall.' Source: Mia Couto, The Tuner of Silences, trans. David Brookshaw (Biblioasis, 2012 (2009)), p. 204

Inseparable as fingers

Yes, the fingers were inseparable for a while, but not united. This is a hand spread wide open with some of the fingers straining to escape from the others. ‘This little cluster of humanity, joined like the five fingers on a hand.’ Source: Mia Couto, The Tuner of...

A wave-frothing vat

The sea as a wave-frothing vat! ‘He fell beneath his shield, / in the same gem-crusted, kingly gear / he had worn when he crossed the frothing wave-vat.’ Source: Beowulf, Seamus Heaney (London: Faber & Faber, 2000 (1999)), p. 41

A luminous woman

The woman appears after a period of darkness in the boys’ lives, from which women were excluded – she is the first woman the boy sees that he can remember. ‘The woman had invaded me just as the sun fills our homes. There was no way of avoiding or obstructing this...

Compass needle obstinacy

Again, one to use in everyday language, I like the idea of obstinacy presented as the needle’s tenacity in pointing in a given direction. ‘… as obstinate as a compass needle.’ Source:  Mia Couto, The Tuner of Silences, trans. David Brookshaw (Biblioasis, 2012 (2009)),...

The closeness of a couple

Beautiful description of the closeness of a couple. But yes, those two simple opening words, ‘at first’, contain a cloud of foreboding. ‘At first, they got on together like wind and sail, scarf and neck.’ Source: Mia Couto, The Tuner of Silences, trans. David...

The silence of stones

As someone who is forever picking up pebbles, this struck me. Silent yes, but I have never seen them as sad. ‘… sad and silent as an unpolished stone.’ Source: Mia Couto, The Tuner of Silences, trans. David Brookshaw (Biblioasis, 2012 (2009)), p....

A compass upheaval

This captures the erratic blusteriness of storms. Although this book is set in Africa, the metaphor reminds me of the description of Arctic storms I am reading in Barry Lopez' Arctic Dreams. ‘The storm was like the upheaval of all the compass points at the same time.’...

As happy as…

Surely this deserves to enter common usage:  ‘… as happy as Adam before he lost his rib.’ Source: Mia Couto, The Tuner of Silences, trans. David Brookshaw (Biblioasis, 2012 (2009)), p. 79

Reading as a meandering canoe

This is a beautiful metaphor for a boy discovering the magic of reading and writing, both of which were forbidden to him. ‘With his index finger, he roamed again and again over the print, like a canoe drifting drunkenly down imaginary rivers.’ Source:  Mia Couto, The...

Top soil on a veranda

Mia Couto’s metaphors are wonderful. This one conveys the dead weight appearance of a body slumped unconscious. ‘It certainly was a body, lying there on the veranda like top soil.’ Source: Mia Couto, The Tuner of Silences, trans. David Brookshaw (Biblioasis, 2012...

Time as oil

A remarkable description of time passing, which makes it sound slow and cloying. ‘The following weeks flowed over us like a thick oil.’ Source: Mia Couto, The Tuner of Silences, trans. David Brookshaw (Biblioasis, 2012 (2009)), p. 68

Adjusting to atrocity

A splendid image of Alexander Pope’s awkward handling of Odysseus’ occasionally outrageous behaviour.   What do you do when the subject of your translation does something you’d rather they didn’t? ‘As if Pope were adjusting his cuffs observing an atrocity.’ Source:...

War as weaving

This is the first time I have heard of the gods weaving human fate on a loom; echoes of Penelope, but without the chance to unpick the weaving at the day’s end. 'But the Lord was weaving a victory on his war-loom for the Weather-Geats.' Source: Beowulf, Seamus Heaney...

Creased with grief

May your face, and those of people you love, never be creased into grief-maps.   What a vivid image of sorrow. ‘He shook his head and his face creased, a grey grief-map.’ Source: Beowulf, Kevin Crossley-Holland, illus. by Charles Keeping (Oxford: Oxford University...

Wide as the wind

Another pithy metaphor that deserves to enter daily use: 'as wide as the wind'.  So, let me wish you this: may your sway be as wide as the wind's home, or as the sea around cliffs. 'Your sway is wide as the wind’s home, / as the sea around cliffs.' Source: Beowulf,...

The worst thirst

May you be spared such thirst, let alone any marching army. ‘God, I’m thirsty,’ Jake said. ‘I feel like the whole Russian army marched through my mouth in its stocking feet.’ Source: Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2008 (1940)),...

Pruning exuberance, corroding hope

Borges uses two incisive metaphors to create the effect of some Irish writing on English letters. '(Irish writers) … made deep incursions into the territory of English letters, pruning all rhetorical exuberance with frank impiety.  Jonathan Swift acted like a...

As kind as…

I found this a beautiful, simple metaphor for kindness: ’As kind as summer…’ Writing this on a kind summer's day, sitting in the garden under the dappling shade of trees, cool breeze to fend off the heat, and the relaxing hollow thwock-thwock of the tennis over the...

As quick as …

This deserves to enter daily usage: 'As quick as thinking'. Source: JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit (London: HarperCollins, 1995), p. 67

The smell of a tune

Mick, the young girl who for me is the heart of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, has a passion for music, which she sees and smells as much as hears. See the review of this bestellar, with more touching quotations on how she hears music. ‘In her mind she could remember...

Sleep and scimitars

What a keen metaphor for the bright light piercing of shut-eye night. ‘Then he would drop bluntly into a sleep that lasted until the morning light struck suddenly beneath his opening eyelids like a scimitar.’ Source: Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter...

A chattering cataract

Carson McCullers captures, or creates, an astonishing spectrum of nuance in how people communicate, with voices, faces, bodies. ‘Talk - talk - talk. The words came out of his throat like a cataract. And the thing was that the accent he used was always changing, the...

Music in the inside room

One of the most touching aspects of this novel is the young girl Mick’s reaction to music she has never heard before, Beethoven.  She can barely pronounce his name, but she hears his music with all her senses and the ‘inside room’ of her mind, where she is able to...

Sea-boot rough

Winter sea hoarseness and tight-swallowing soreness. ‘My throat’s as rough as the inside of a sea-boot.’ Source: Arthur Ransome, Secret Water (London: Vintage, 2014 (1939)), p. 201

Maps meet Frankenstein

The re-making of maps as Frankenstein collage. How much havoc has torn harmony apart with such unrelated stitchings together? ‘It is an odd accident that Mary Shelley should have been writing Frankenstein just as Prussia was settling into its new territories – a...

Battering-ram power

Nancy is a character with battering-ram energy in all she does, exuberantly seeking opportunities to go to ‘war’ with her friends and family. A warm-hearted warrior tomboy. ‘Nancy ... gave Susan a look as powerful as a battering ram.’ Source: Arthur Ransome, Secret...

Memory of a mistake

That awful dawning when you emerge from innocent sleep and remember something you didn’t do right, and dismay fills the pit of your belly like a cloud billowing in a balloon. ‘There was sunlight outside. Yet he woke with a queer feeling of gloom. It was like waking on...

Flapping not floundering

Living pancakes, flapping not floundering. ‘He emptied the bucket into the creek, and the two little flounders flapped away, like pancakes come to life.’ Source: Arthur Ransome, Secret Water (London: Vintage, 2014 (1939)), p. 183

Sky-breaking storms

Another wet weather image.   We have a single-slope roof which makes the rain sound an inch above one’s head, and Luiz grew up to the sound of metallic tropical rain beating on terracotta roof tiles. ‘One flash followed another and then there were three tremendous...

Stormy tea trays

We’ve had some rotten weather recently, rain-grey clouds rolling over us like dismal tumbleweed, so this resonates. ‘There was a distant rumbling, and then a sudden crash, followed by a clattering as if an iron tea-tray ten miles wide was tumbling down a stone...

Dull as suet pudding

A charming alternative to ‘dull as ditchwater’.   I also like the last affirmative sentence. “Your brother is the most interesting patient I ever had. My patients mostly are as dull as suet puddings ... But your brother is something different altogether, and I’m proud...

Intellect as desert

Prince Albert’s interests outshining his fellow royals to such a stark extent suggests an alarming intellectual aridity. Reminds me of an alleged response by the King on being presented with Edward Gibbon’s Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. ‘Another big fat book!...

Europe as clammy climate

Europe’s emerging role in the 18th century signalled like a clammy change in climate... And if you think he gives Europe a hard time, you should see some of his comments about Britain (coming soon to a review near you). ‘Of course this inpouring of stuff was the basis...

Germany as jigsaw

This may be the metaphor of the month: I keep imagining the aftermath of an explosion in a jigsaw factory.   And if you have ever struggled, as I am sure you have, to master the complexities of Germany’s statelets and graf-doms before Prussia shook them down into some...

Brain as bathroom shelf

Simon Winder is a favourite historian and the upcoming review of his Germania will show why. He has more original phrasing than most library collections marked ‘History’.   He brings past events, people and places to life and douses you with bracing insights, flushing...

Difficulty

Ever had that feeling? May it dissolve and pass, fast. ‘Writing was difficult; the words came as painfully as kidney stones.’ Source: Obituary of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Economist, 26 April 2014, p. 82

Winter cometh

A metaphor to grab you, as the light and warmth of summer beats a retreat and winter advances, affront of cold and dark. ‘The sun, tardier every morning, fought retreating skirmishes with the frost. Cold had light by the throat.’ Source: The Lost Carving, David...

Whiteness

‘… as white as tripe …’   Somehow, a more viscous, creamier white than the white of de Waal’s porcelain.   The repeated ‘i’ is appealing. Source: Adam Nicolson, The Mighty Dead (London: William Collins, 2015), p. 22

Whiteness

A vision of whiteness brought into relief through contrast with non-whiteness, rendering everything else mere shadow. ‘It is becoming his obsession, a vision to make porcelain whiter than the Chinese. To make something so white and true and perfect, that the world...

Writing

A lovely set of climatic KPIs for this website and other writing: crisp as sand, clear as sunlight. ‘… I seek   /   As climate seeks its style, to write   /   Verse crisp as sand, clear as sunlight,   /   Cold as the curved wave, ordinary   /   As a tumbler of island...

Vapour

The remnants of summer curling like smoke from a battle field! Esterly is one of those makers who handle words as deftly as they handle the other materials they work in, in his case, wood. ‘The remnants of summer steam out of the river, in tall plumes of vapor that...

Unconcerned

I like the notion of a river being slow and wide enough to signal unconcern, and the unconcern likened to a cow at its cud, perhaps on the same river’s bank. ‘A wide, slow river came sliding out of the north, as unconcerned as a cow at its cud.’ Source: Adam Nicolson,...

Training

Yet no amount of impeccable espaliering constrained her niece’s spirit. ‘Was determined to train her niece as impeccably as a gardener espaliering a fruit tree.’ Source: Molly Peacock, The Paper Garden (London: Bloomsbury, 2012), p. 40

Thinness

‘… thin as a child’s eyelash.’    What a sweet and delicate image! Source: Molly Peacock, The Paper Garden (London: Bloomsbury, 2012), p. 24

Thinking

Apt use of the kiln as a metaphor to describe the thought process of the man who first created porcelain in Britain. ‘I realize that William’s way of moving through ideas is like the air and flame in the kiln, with lots of free ascent and play, motion and discussion.’...

Surfaces

You can see this magnificent creature's breathing sheen. ‘His surfaces oscillate like the breathing flank of some thoroughbred animal.’ Source: Edmund de Waal, The White Road (London: Chatto & Windus, 2015), p. 200

Stalled

Next time you feel stalled or blocked, think of it as a moment of suspension in a changeless sky, reassuring yourself that even the most changeless skies change sooner or later. ‘I felt as stalled as the changeless skies.’ Source: The Lost Carving, David Esterly (New...

Soldiers

An early shock in Mary Delany’s life was being awakened by soldiers in the night, and given minutes to prepare to leave her home and parents. The shock is in the ‘red exclamation points’. ‘But it was two soldiers with guns in their hands barging toward their bedside...

Singing

A refreshingly cheery sound, I imagine the old men sitting under the shade of the tree in which cicadas might sing a harmony. ‘The old men, singing like cicadas in the treetops.’ Source: Adam Nicolson, The Mighty Dead (London: William Collins, 2015), p....

Days

Last winter felt seamless and infinite in the amount of rain. But summer in here now, and all is bright. ‘Their days became seamless and infinite as winter rain.’ Source: Obituary of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Economist, 26 April 2014, p. 82

Book sales

Can't remember when I last saw such a librarian, but surely they still exist. ‘Prizes like the Pulitzer and Man Booker may send sales as high as a librarian’s neckline, but they are notoriously hard to win.’ Source: ‘Authorpreneurship’, The Economist, 14 Feb 2015, p....

Rounded

Marvelous anchorage of Homer’s poetry in beach pebbles worn to smoothness by a Greek sea. ‘His poetry embodies the air of incorporated time, as rounded as something that for centuries has rolled back and forth on the stony beaches of Greece.’ Source: Adam Nicolson,...

Rain

You can feel this rain steadily, gently, saturating the ground. ‘Rain as fine as stitching, petit point, silk samplers.’ Source: Kevin Crossley-Holland, ‘September’, The Breaking Hour (London: Enitharmon Press, 2015), p. 55

Publishing

A good military metaphor for the Waterloo tome industry. ‘With the bicentenary of the battle of Waterloo fast approaching, the publishing industry has already fired volley after volley of weighty ordnance at what is indeed one of the defining moments of European...

Persistence

Lovely.  We’ve all met them, those persistent, human, politely buzzing flies. ‘But her son persisted like a politely buzzing fly.’ Source: Molly Peacock, The Paper Garden (London: Bloomsbury, 2012), p. 57

Negligible

Try it, say ‘negligible’ slowly and see what a crumbly, negligible word it is. ‘His assets are negligible, a word that crumbles scant as rust.’ Source: Edmund de Waal, The White Road (London: Chatto & Windus, 2015), p. 306

Naked

From a tender children’s book, reinventing Vivaldi’s school for girl musicians, one of whom was named in a register and then brought to life by the imagination of Crossley-Holland. ‘Naked as needles…’ Source: Heartsong, Kevin Crossley-Holland, illus. by Jane Ray...

Mind

The meandering mind isn’t always as aimless as it seems, and can yield serendipitous discoveries and connections. ‘The mind slips its mooring and lets the river take it where it will.’ Source: The Lost Carving, David Esterly (New York: Penguin, 2012), p....

Life

But the novel improves immeasurably in the reading. ‘Her life at this time was a mere paragraph in a novel.’ Source: Molly Peacock, The Paper Garden (London: Bloomsbury, 2012), p. 59

Letters

A Key Performance Indicator for this website which is, in a sense, a series of letters sharing gleaming, ripe berries of information. ‘Here and there in the leafy glade of her letters a ripe berry of information gleams.’ Source: Molly Peacock, The Paper...

Images

May you be ever spared barked slogans. ‘Images pass, as brief as barked slogans.’ Source: Edmund de Waal, The White Road (London: Chatto & Windus, 2015), p. 374

Green

The surprise of colour, isn’t that what often arrests us? ‘The green is as surprising as the colour of willows in spring.’ Source: Edmund de Waal, The White Road (London: Chatto & Windus, 2015), p. 152

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