Returning to an old classic, Ciardi’s “How Does a Poem Mean?”, good figurative language is concrete, condensed and, above all interesting. It has a precision and vividness absent from everyday language. A paraphrase of a poem will almost always have more words and less impact than the original. The most effective metaphors are fresh, not outworn cliches. They conjure up pictures and other sensory recollections of sounds, smells, tastes. Since thoughts occur as pictures or images, not couched in words, the multitude of shifting images and pictures called up by words is a natural process.
Dramatically, a metaphor is an indirect comparison where a simile is a direct one. “He was a colt running across the meadow” is more direct than “He ran like a colt across the meadow.” A metaphor can be a one-line comparison or an overall comparison sustained throughout a longer piece. This imagery becomes a wider term than metaphor; it is the “total sensory suggestion of poetry” (Ciardi). For example, Hawthorne’s novel The Blythedale Romance is saturated with a sense of illusion which several metaphors help to sustain. The theme of concealment of thoughts, emotions, and deeds reigns throughout and is paralleled by the concealment feature of the snow and the snowstorms. Thus, the snow image joins veils, masquerades, and mesmerisms and clairvoyance as major metaphors in the novel. The snow asserts its presence as a white veil (like that of the veiled lady) which adds to the mystery and ambiguity of the novel and the events which occur in it.
Metaphor, whether in poetry or in novels, is a powerful tool the poet/novelist can use to aid the reader in his search for meaning. When used well, this tool makes the poem/novel clearer and denser at the same time; it clarifies or mystifies. Metaphor or metaphoric language sums up the importance of figurative language in general. As Robert Frost wrote, ” Poetry provides the one permissible way of saying one thing and meaning another.”