edward hirsch

dead metaphor A metaphor that has supposedly been used so often that it has lost its capacity to describe one thing in terms of another, and no longer operates as a metaphor. Do we think of the heart when we say that this definition strikes the heart of the matter. The question of whether or not a dead metaphor is still a metaphor has been debated in recent years. Metaphors may not be surprising –I'm skating on thin ice here–but they can still work as metaphors. Zoltán Kövecses explains: “The ‘dead metaphor’ account misses an important point… . The metaphors … may be highly conventionally and effortlessly used, but this does not mean that they have lost their vigor in thought and that they are dead. On the contrary, they are 'alive’ in the most important sense–they govern our thought–they are 'metaphors we live by.’” Some poets, such as Samuel Johnson in “The Vanity of Human Wishes” (1749), make a point of invigorating dead metaphors. Giambattista Vico contended in The New Science (1725) that all language begins with metaphor and that the first metaphors were drawn from the human body. A great deal of what we think of as literal speech consists of dead metaphors, as when we say “the mouth of a river,” “veins of minerals,” “murmuring waves,” “weeping willows,” “the bowels of the earth,” and “smiling skies.” We speak the vestiges of ancient metaphorical language.

— A Poet’s Glossary by Edward Hirsch

See also: cliché, convention, metaphor, personification

I don’t believe that only sorrow
and misery can be written.
Happiness, too, can be precise:
Doctor, there’s a keen throbbing
on the left side of my chest
where my ribs are wrenched by joy.
Wings flutter in my shoulders
and blood courses through my body
like waves cresting on a choppy sea.
Look: the eyes blur with tears
and the tears clear.
My head is like skylight.
My heart is like dawn.
—  Edward Hirsch, “Happiness Writes White”

It’s like this: just when you think
you have forgotten that red-haired girl
who left you stranded in a parking lot
forty years ago, you wake up

early enough to see her disappearing
around the corner of your dream
on someone else’s motorcycle
roaring onto the highway at sunrise.

And so now I’m sitting in a dimly lit
café full of early morning risers
where the windows are covered with soot
and the coffee is warm and bitter.

—  Early Sunday Morning by Edward Hirsch 

Tonight I want to say something wonderful
for the sleepwalkers who have so much faith
in their legs, so much faith in the invisible

arrow carved into the carpet, the worn path
that leads to the stairs instead of the window,
the gaping doorway instead of the seamless mirror.

I love the way that the sleepwalkers are willing
to step out of their bodies into the night,
to raise their arms and welcome the darkness,

palming the blank spaces, touching everything.
Always they return home safely, like blind men
who know it is morning by feeling shadows.

And always they wake up as themselves again.
That’s why I want to say something astonishing
like: Our hearts are leaving our bodies.

Our hearts are thirsty black handkerchiefs
flying through the trees at night, soaking up
the darkest beams of moonlight, the music

of owls, the motion of wind-torn branches.
And now our hearts are thick black fists
flying back to the glove of our chests

We have to learn to trust our hearts like that.
We have to learn the desperate faith of sleep-
walkers who rise out of their calm beds

and walk through the skin of another life.
We have to drink the stupefying cup of darkness
and wake up to ourselves, nourished and surprised.

—  Edward Hirsch, “For the Sleepwalkers”

I am so small walking on the beach
at night under the widening sky.
The wet sand quickens beneath my feet
and the waves thunder against the shore.

I am moving away from the boardwalk
with its colorful streamers of people
and the hotels with their blinking lights.
The wind sighs for hundreds of miles.

I am disappearing so far into the dark
I have vanished from sight.
I am a tiny seashell
that has secretly drifted ashore

and carries the sound of the ocean
surging through its body.
I am so small now no one can see me.
How can I be filled with such a vast love?

Edward Hirsch, “The Widening Sky,” Lay Back the Darkness: Poems (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2008)