A Matter of Metaphor
A couple of weeks ago I watched an early summer rain-storm fall on a small arm of a large pond in Delaware. This was Red Mill pond in Milton, which has occupied its present spot for a hundred years or more, though its eponymous mill is long gone. In a strange phenomenon of nature I couldn't recall seeing before, the fresh rain water flowed in thin broad channels or streams over the murkier pond water. The light reflected off these differing patches of water in a way that threw them into contrast. The pond normally maintains a strong green glow through the mid-year months near that of a summer lawn. There is no mistaking its photosynthetic vibrancy. Initially the two waters were not mixing the one flowing over the other, but eventually and untrammeled by the unceasing pelt of the rain on the ponds surface they began to merge. The rain water pooling on the surface darkening it and slowly sinking down and dissolving in.
The effect was similar to oil and water at first blush but the medium was of like, not opposed substances. The pond water was older and dustier than the rain water. Full of existing mineral and organic entities imposing their own form and impermeable barriers. More a matrix, a substrate of phytoplankton, than the solitary word water conveys. The rain water falling on it was cleaner purer, and far far simpler.
This seemed at once a naturalistic observation, as such a natural metaphor. A layering a merging, sorted out through the complex adjudication of physical rules. Certain similar phenomenon occur in multiple relatable places throughout the natural world. In physical nature living nature and in higher psychological states of being. Plato's body to the body politic. Hobbes' Leviathan, lumbering shadow of the ship of state Not only processes but shapes circles spheres cones curves. The repeated occurrence of the golden mean spiral for instance occurs at many levels from macro to micro environments. There is something about these that is at once extensible transferable relatable to other things, capable of explaining one part of nature to another, that begs use.
Same pond portion, on another colder dryer day /pb
Some, at a moment like this, might start arranging in their minds lines for a poem -- to carry the metaphor over. The rhythm in my head tends to prose over poetry. It slows to rehearse the argument, construct an inventory of terms. There are those that consider poetry to be the highest best expression of an idea. I accept that in general poetry is the strongest form of language. By that I imagine I am saying it is the most particularized compact deployment of language. The right word in the right place. Poetry carries too, I suppose, an extra appeal to emotion, in its heart-beat cadence. To sense and sensitivity. A primacy as well to image symbol and arrangement.
I might not have spent that much time even considering the muster of poetic expression if I did not keep in the back of my thoughts the fact that I know someone who has gone on to make a living at line and meter.
Stripes cover you in rain. / We are grew and grew, / a particular mood tooth / Kind of day: beans on toast / and become / the professor of transformation. This is the poet Hoa Nguyen (I refer to her that way to distinguish her from my friend the poetical Tran Nguyen who; however, has never read G.M Hopkins yet carries a life-ring from the Deutchesland wherever she goes). I knew Hoa as an undergraduate when words were not yet her vocation. The quoted lines are from Rain Poem contained in her collection As long as trees last (Book, 2012) , p.8) I thought of Hoa recently while reading this article from the Atlantic Literature Is Dead (According to Straight, White Guys, At Least) - Joel Breuklander - The Atlantic:. "Mannered...soft", the charge is laid against modern poetry. So Obvious feathers on a heart pen (p.12). It's hardly dead.
I prefer prose when I write because it more closely resembles the run of thoughts in my head; the slow array of language. Although, to be sure it ain't prose exactly. I like the mounted argument with its seeming loose pile of concrete verbiage. A ramp to the highest wall. The thinner edge worked under the most ponderous opinion. Prose is such a simple machine.
Prose allows you to unlimber not only metaphors similes and the like, but also the space to deploy analogies and compound-complex allegories. The only thing holding me back here is the lack of enough discipline and education to rigorously apply these devices. My metaphors remain mixed, my sheets bent to my lines if tied down at all. The canvas becomes a torn curtain of loose ends. The way is lost, things go adrift.
Here, reflecting on this unsuspected aspect of a summer rain I incline to natural metaphor. Another facet of the world assuming a form of similar impression. Youth, perhaps. Youth merging into the adult world. With its own ideals, ways of being. Reticent resistant, but gradually accepting of established roles and responsibilities. What is the metaphor saying then? Youth dissipates; loses itself in adulthood? That rain/youth is a temporary or initial state, is it the pond that is permanent? Which is the more natural, without rain, what for the jealous pond? The rain water is, we could imagine, part of a fuller cycle involving evaporation and the sun, identifying the rainwater as an emergent clarity returning.
Nature has process -- cycles that run on thermodynamics and entropy alone. At first we may be tempted to regard this as an ideation outside of nature. That is nature identified strictly with the organic, the realm of the living striving and winding round, crowded and recursive. Nature is a mix of the organic and inorganic. They imitate each other in process and in form, (crystals grow, stars are born) a branching, area-filling fractal extensiveness is common to both. The laws of physics apply and rule the possibilities of both and the common elements of matter make up both the organic and in organic realms.
Nothing in nature occurs with absolute necessity. What we call nature is our observation and description of it. The statistical account of it we deploy is still a better model the one of command and edict. Nature is what we see, the laws of nature what happens. Often what we are talking about when we talk of nature is proscribing behavior, of natural phenomenon, but more that of people.
At the end of this I'm just content for avoiding bringing around yet another metaphor of youth as incandescent, burning (and burning out). The young have no reason to believe that the regularity of nature that orders things and imposes paths through the forest good and bad does not not apply to them. At the same time false dichotomies and rushed streams of some naturally ordained life should not impede desire and infinite possibility.
11:59:40 PM ;;