Snow and Metaphor

Frosty Footpath - winter snow

Frosty Footpath – winter snow (Photo credit: blmiers2)

The first snowstorm of the winter came belatedly today to the Washington, D.C. area where I live, and got me thinking about metaphor. I woke up this morning and looked to see if the storm really had come as predicted, found it pouring down outside my window, and thought the sky looked like a sheet of grey paper. In that moment, the snow itself was thin as sawdust, spilling through the tree in my front yard. So I thought – metaphors. Metaphors are a writer’s most vital tool, fueling description and the themes that give stories meaning. I’ve always thought metaphor is humanity’s most vital tool too, because without the ability to compare one thing to the next (and I’m using metaphor in the largest sense of the word, here) we wouldn’t be able to think abstractly. The first user of metaphor was the first human being as we, I think, would recognize one, because metaphor is the source of language. Putting symbols to physical things is a baby step toward metaphor, and the next step is thinking about things we can’t see, and giving names to them. To take an example, if you know about a mother and child relationship, because you’ve experienced it, and you know about families, because you live in one, a more abstract step is to see other human beings you are not related to as part of the family of humanity, and treat them accordingly, creating rules about what you can and can’t do, say, to a traveler you’re welcoming into your home. And that’s the beginning of law and civilization. Without metaphor, we’d all be stuck inside the boundaries of each moment – what we could see, touch, taste, smell and hear. Metaphor flings open the doors to the universe (another metaphor – see?) So that’s my snow day thought. And now, as I write this, the snow has thickened, and my sawdust image has to give way to feathers.

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