Have you ever wondered about the spark, the impetus, that drove the first human to scratch a line and say this represents such-and-such? Think about it. I’ll venture a guess and say tally numbers came first because tally sticks marking moon cycles have turned up in prehistoric caves.
We once watched a documentary about a missing kingdom in Ancient Egypt. In a nutshell, the search turned up many unidentifiable clay tablets covered in unknown cuneiform writing. The archaeologists were desperate to find one readable text that would act like the Rosetta Stone. When they eventually found such a tablet, all fell in to place.
Looking at cuneiform, it seems all too similar to me with its little dashes and triangular stabs pointing this way and that. I can’t help thinking it must have been difficult to memorize. I imagine every student in China would laugh at me for saying that. With an astounding 45,000 different characters, the Chinese writing system isn’t an alphabet as we know alphabets, rather entire words in symbol form. It’s said one only need to memorize about 3000-4000 to be proficient in reading Mandarin. Is that all? I like our 26 letters of the alphabet. I like our R’s and S’s. I’m comfortable with our W’s and Q’s. Other languages have such fun-looking alphabets. Russian and Turkish comes to mind. Belarusian and Greek as well.
Just sharing a thought there — a wordy morning ramble launched on a half-cup of coffee. Anyway…
Yesterday I began this portion of my symbol series with allegory (scroll down to read). As far as symbols found in literature goes, you can’t examine the topic of allegory without touching upon Extended Metaphor.
A metaphor is a figure of speech that uses two very different concepts, or two concepts that are not connected in any way, to draw a comparison between the two.
This explanation went on to use the moon to illustrate the broader concept of the extended metaphor:
“One can compare one’s temperament to the moon–and then describe certain qualities of the moon such as pale, bright etc to describe their mood. In this case, the moon and one’s temperament are in no way connected, but a connect is made by merging the two completely different concepts.
Take the same example forward to understand what an extended metaphor is. When the moon and one’s temperament are continued to be compared throughout the work of art, and are not simply limited to a single line, it becomes an example of an extended metaphor. In this example, the different qualities of the moon, like the shape, color or the brightness, and the different qualities of a person’s life are used to draw a parallel–in that way it becomes an extended metaphor.”
Ooh I get it. I’ve seen this symbolic word-dance before in poetry where long wandering babble of creative comparison somehow makes sense in the end. Shakespeare did it all the time. So did Carl Sandburg, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Frost.
As You Like it by William Shakespeare
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”
Fog by Carl Sandburg
The fog comes in on little cat feet.
It sits looking over the harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then, moves on.
Hope by Emily Dickinson
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
Comedian Will Ferrell ~ the Commencement Address at Harvard University
“I graduated from the University of Life. All right? I received a degree from the School of Hard Knocks. And our colors were black and blue, baby. I had office hours with the Dean of Bloody Noses. I borrowed my class notes from Professor Knuckle Sandwich and his Teaching Assistant, Ms. Fat Lip. That’s the kind of school I went to for real, okay?
Alone, words are humble symbols for thought. To string them together to create such vivid images is one thing. To convey broader or deeper meaning in the reader’s mind with precise metaphor is quite another. It truly is a gift.
Tomorrow: a bit more.
“What a severe yet master artist old Winter is…. No longer the canvas and the pigments, but the marble and the chisel.“
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Authors and Industry representatives all month long.
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