Some thoughts on analogy in poetry


Analogy is the siren song of poetry, irresistible but fraught with danger for the poet. Somehow we’ve been sold the idea that simile and metaphor *are* poetry, that everything has to be spoken about in terms of something else. 1/7

Maybe that’s why the Imagist dictum ‘Direct treatment of the “thing," whether subjective or objective’ was so radical, and remains so radical. 2/7

Which is not to say that analogy doesn’t have a place, but for it to work it’s important to remember that at base any analogy operates on strictly logical lines: A is to B as C is to D; ship is to sea as plough is to field. 3/7

As with any logical structure, use well, analogy can either be a statement of the obvious or contain an interesting insight. 4/7

To take a couple of well-known examples, I would argue that pen is to poet as spade is to farmer falls under the ‘the obvious’ while curfew is to day as funeral knell is to night brings the physical, temporal and cognitive landscapes of Gray’s poem into a single, sharp focus. 5/7

And then there’s the possibility of logical disruption, which can result in McGonagall
The Storm Fiend did loudly bray,
Because ninety lives had been taken away,

or surrealism,
The iron circles of the sky
Are worn away by tempest 6/7

So, I’ve come to distrust simile and metaphor, while not rejecting the role of analogy in poetic thought. There’s a balance to be found, but to find that balance I feel the need to be aware of what I’m doing, and not just be seduced by the song. 7/7

Originally tweeted by Billy Mills (@BmillsBilly) on 05/05/2021.