The enduring value, and pleasure, of the metaphor

By Micah Mattix

The enduring value, and pleasure, of the metaphor.Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric—a guidebook of rhetorical devices—was an unexpected success in 2010. David R. Godine, the noted Boston publisher, had planned a print run of 4,000 copies, but sales shot to over 20,000 following glowing reviews in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere. Ward Farnsworth, dean of the University of Texas School of Law, turned out to be a clear and engaging guide with a good eye for eloquence. One of the chief pleasures of the book is the quotations from Shakespeare and various 18th- and 19th-century writers, whose artistry is even more striking when compared with our own, rather ineloquent, age.

Now he’s back with the follow-up, Farnsworth’s Classical English Metaphor. In Rhetoric, which is now available in paperback, Farnsworth discusses the function of a particular classical device in each chapter. He notes how polysyndeton, for example, uses repeated conjunctions to help regulate “the pace of an utterance” as well as speed it up, suggesting “excitability and urgency.” Or in a chapter on chiasmus—the inversion of key words or phrases in a subsequent sentence (“Men need not trouble to alter conditions, conditions will so soon alter men,” to take an example from G. K. Chesterton)—he explains how it uses circularity to make a state of affairs seem undeniably true and improve memorability.

Classical English Metaphor is organized differently. Since the book examines just the one device (he includes similes as a species of metaphor), Farnsworth divides the chapters by categories. In the first chapter, for example, he looks at the use of animals to describe humans. In the second, he turns to the use of nature to describe abstract ideas. In the third, he explains and provides examples of how nature is used to describe feelings and inner states. And so on. There is a separate chapter for personification, as well as brief examinations of the syntax of both similes and metaphors.

Read the complete review

A very early reminder that we’ll be discussing the role of metaphor in poetry on November 24.

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