On Metaphor

In Owen Barfield’s Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning, Barfield spends a considerable amount of time discussing meaning. I know, it sounds weird since it’s only in the title, but he keeps his word and actually stays focused on the task at hand. In the chapters on metaphor, Barfield outlines the history of various words that over time, have grown in meaning. For example, the word ruin used to mean only to fall. But poets began using the idea of falling in terms of describing things (they created a metaphor out of it) and the word became a noun. This is a fun way to think about language. While working at the Youth Writers Camp at The Lighthouse last week, there was a conversation and somebody mentioned either banks or bakeries. My ears have still not recovered from that concert at the beginning of July, so I asked for clarification–because there’s a big difference between a bank and a bakery. The response:

Yeah, but both have dough.

Doh! I love a good pun. But it wasn’t just a pun in my mind thanks to Barfield. I started thinking about the connection between bread and money. Somewhere, sometime, somebody drew the connection (is the origin of the metaphor related to the expression of bread winner? Bringing home the dough?) and the word’s meaning expanded.

Barfield asserts that language needs poetry because through poetry language and meaning grow. I agree with Barfield. The point? If we keep theorizing about poetry (langpo, flarf, conecptualism, quietude, blah, blah, blah) we lose sight of meaning. Now, to someone like Goldsmith, meaning doesn’t even mean anymore so why try. But I think it’s a cop out. I wonder if this is why there is such a disconnect between the p-a crowd and everybody else. To say there is no meaning but in words is ludicrous as Barfield points out, because words and meaning depend on experience. So I would say this whole idea of poetry existing only through theories leads to a dead language, where people like Goldsmith dwell. Take the experience out of poetry, and you’re left with flarf and other regurgitations rather than humanity and a growth of language.

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3 thoughts on “On Metaphor

  1. KG does not dwell in dead language even if he thinks he wants to, or pretends to want to. His way of being boring is very exciting, actually. As is flarf. As are many other … I don’t think you need worry about “dead language” because there’s no such thing. It’s not even possible.

  2. Hi John, I don’t think KG dwells in dead language, but rather that purposely avoiding meaning can kill language. And I wouldn’t say that flarf is boring at all–I’ve read many examples that I thought were truly engaging and exciting. Language builds meaning, but not without some sort of experience. That’s what I’m getting at.

    And I would consider Latin a dead language. Not dead as in passed away and completely decomposed, but rather under-utilized and unknown. We don’t write things in Latin anymore, nobody speaks Latin either. Yes, much of the English language descends from Latin, but beyond that…

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