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Transcript of IMAGERY
What's an image?
language that calls up a physical sensation, appealing to us at the level of any of our five senses.
Images can be literal:
Or they may be figurative, departing from the actual and stating or implying a comparison:
the red kitchen chair in a dim corner of the room;
the gritty wet sand under her bare feet.
the chair, red and shiny as fingernail polish;
the armies of sand grains advancing across the wood floor of the beach house.
They pull us in and help us experience the subject of the writing for ourselves rather than telling us what to think about the subject.
Images are seductive in themselves, but they’re not just scenery—they embody emotions and ideas.
If you read the images in a literary text carefully, they will tell you what the speaker feels about the subject
and you can learn to use them in your writing to engage your audience, to create a certain tone or mood in a piece, to tell your audience how you or your characters feel about the subject matter, etc.
At last the trees are green on Marlborough Street,
blossoms on our magnolia ignite
the morning with their murderous five days’ white.
--Robert Lowell, “Man and Wife”
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow…
--Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach”
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
--T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
Writing is one of the most abstract of all art forms. Unlike painting, music, dance, sculpture, etc. it has no direct pathway to the senses. All we get is little black markings on a white piece of paper.
As writers we have to work to CREATE that pathway to our readers' senses so that our writing comes alive for our readers and reaches out to them. Sense images can help our readers experience what we're talking about and feel what we have to say. They can get our readers involved and concerned. They can make our readers care.
Specifics give the mind something to grasp. Reading a philosophical, abstract essay is much more difficult than reading a simple description that’s narrative or concrete.
They can also convince our readers that what we have to say is relevant, important, and true. Concrete sensory details say we know what we're talking about. We've been there. For real.
Images haunt. There is a whole mythology built on this fact: Cezanne painting till his eyes bled, Wordsworth wandering the Lake Country hills in an impassioned daze. Blake describes it very well, and so did a colleague of Tu Fu who said to him, “It is like being alive twice.” Images are not quite ideas, they are stiller than that, with less implications outside themselves. And they are not myth, they do not have that explanatory power; they are nearer to pure story. Nor are they always metaphors; they do not say this is that, they say this is.
--Robert Hass,Twentieth Century Pleasures
Images are a kind of energy you can exchange with your reader; you take a walk outside after the first snowfall of the season, fill your eyes with the dazzling surfaces of the fields and your lungs with the sharp pure air. Your boots sink in, crunching down to the frozen earth, and when you return to the cabin the warmth feels like a pair of gloved hands placed on your cold ears. You sit down and write about the snow. Miles away and years later, someone—a reader—closes her eyes and experiences it.
--Adonizzio and Laux
Show Don’t Tell (From Steve Kowit)
We'll look at a few statements that tell us what someone was feeling. Replace them with brief sensory descriptions that convey rather than state the emotions.
She felt so sad.
Her eyes drifted down to the wilted flowers, their purples and pinks turned to a single shade of faded, ruined brown. It hadn’t rained all summer, and she realized now how much she was like those flowers.
That summer at camp he missed his mother.
The letter confused her.
He felt angry.
She begged him to stay.
Describe a pair of shoes in such a way that a reader will think of death. Use at least three of your five senses. Do not mention death in the description. (From Addonizio and Laux)
Describe a piece of clothing you once loved. Use as many senses as you can to make your love for the object clear without stating that you loved it.
OBEDIENCE OF THE CORPSE
The midwife puts a rag in the dead woman's hand,
takes the hairpins out.
She smells apples,
wonders where she keeps them in the house.
Nothing is under the sink
but a broken sack of potatoes growing eyes.
She hopes the mother's milk is good awhile longer,
the woman up the road is still nursing.
She remembers the neighbor
and the dead woman never got along.
A limb breaks.
She knows it's not the wind.
Somebody needs to set out some poison.
She looks to see if the woman wrote down any names,
finds a white shirt to wrap the baby in.
It's beautiful she thinks--
snow nobody has walked on.
DEPRESSED BY A BOOK OF BAD POETRY, I WALK TOWARD AN UNUSED PASTURE AND INVITE THE INSECTS TO JOIN ME
Relieved, I let the book fall behind a stone.
I climb a slight rise of grass.
I do not want to disturb the ants
Who are walking single file up the fence post,
Carrying small white petals,
Casting shadows so frail that I can see through them.
I close my eyes for a moment, and listen.
The old grasshoppers
Are tired, they leap heavily now,
Their thighs burdened.
I want to hear them, they have clear sounds to make.
Then lovely, far off, a dark cricket begins
In the maple trees.
LYING IN A HAMMOCK AT WILLIAM DUFFY'S FARM IN PINE ISLAND, MINNESOTA
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year's horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.
when i watch you
wrapped up like garbage
sitting, surrounded by the smell
of too old potato peels
when i watch you
in your old man’s shoes
with the little toe cut out
sitting, waiting for your mind
like next week’s grocery
when i watch you
you wet brown bag of a woman
who used to be the best looking gal in georgia
used to be called the Georgia Rose
i stand up
through your destruction
i stand up
From “The Things They Carried”
In the first week of April, before Lavender died, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross received a good-luck charm from Martha. It was a simple pebble, an ounce at most. Smooth to the touch, it was a milky-white color with flecks of orange and violet, oval-shaped, like a miniature egg. In the accompanying letter, Martha wrote that she had found the pebble on the Jersey shoreline, precisely where the land touched water at high tide, where things came together but also separated. It was this separate-but-together quality, she wrote, that had inspired her to pick up the pebble and to carry it in her breast pocket for several days, where it seemed weightless, and then to send it through the mail, by air, as a token of her truest feelings for him. Lieutenant Cross found this romantic. But he wondered what her truest feelings were, exactly, and what she meant by separate-but-together. He wondered how the tides and waves had come into play on that afternoon along the Jersey shoreline when Martha saw the pebble and bent down to rescue it from geology. He imagined bare feet. Martha was a poet, with the poet’s sensibilities, and her feet would be brown and bare, the toenails unpainted, the eyes chilly and somber like the ocean in March, and though it was painful, he wondered who had been with her that afternoon. He imagined a pair of shadows moving along the strip of sand where things came together but also separated. It was phantom jealousy, he knew, but he couldn’t help himself. He loved her so much. On the march, through the hot days of early April, he carried the pebble in his mouth, turning it with his tongue, tasting sea salts and moisture. His mind wandered. He had difficulty keeping his attention on the war. On occasion he would yell at his men to spread out the column, to keep their eyes open, but then he would slip away into daydreams, just pretending, walking barefoot along the Jersey shore, with Martha, carrying nothing. He would feel himself rising. Sun and waves and gentle winds, all love and lightness.