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Metaphor and Knowledge

  1. Sep 1, 2008 #1
    Metaphor and Knowledge

    Understanding any poem requires knowledge. The following poem is from the Sanskrit tradition:

    Neighbor please/ keep an eye on my house/ my husband says the water from the well/ is tasteless/ so even when I’m alone/ I have to go into the forest/ where the Tamala trees/ shade the river bank/ and maybe the thick reeds/ will leave marks on my body.

    Comprehending this poem requires the reader to know such things as—passionate sexual activity can leave marks on the body—in India at the time of the poem illicit sexual rendezvous often took place in the tall reeds of the river bank.

    Such knowledge would be required to understand a similar poem:

    There where the reeds are tall/ is the best place to cross the river/ she told the traveler/ with her eye on him.

    Take your average metaphor; it too requires knowledge to comprehend. Your average metaphor has a source domain containing knowledge and a target domain to which that knowledge is mapped.

    LIFE AS A JOURNEY is a metaphor describing our knowledge of journeys, which is used to help us comprehend the problem of living in our society. This metaphor helps us comprehend both consciously and primarily unconsciously that there is a correspondence between a traveler and a person engaged in the mundane and also important aspects of living, i.e. the road traveled, the directions taken, the starting point, the destination, etc.

    The reason that this form of knowledge is so powerful is because a whole lifetime of learning about journeys can be at our beck and call as we navigate life’s hazards. All of this need not be relearned at each of life’s crossroads. Purposes in life can be understood as destinations.

    Similar metaphors that come to our aid:

    We can see that the power to reason about living very largely comes through metaphor and basic schemas. Once we learn a schema we need not relearn it each time we need it. “It becomes conventionalized and as such is used automatically, effortlessly, and even unconsciously…Similarly, once we learn a conceptual metaphor, it too is just there, conventionalized, a ready and powerful conceptual tool…The things most alive in our conceptual system are those things that we use constantly, unconsciously, and automatically.”

    Quotes from “More Than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor” by Lakoff and Turner.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 3, 2008 #2


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    Lets just say that someone with zero experience will not grasp the meaning or significance of any poem to begin with.

    An infant child will not have any prior knowledge of paper... until they touch it, put in the their mouth, crumple it up... and do that sort of thing with it. This has to happen a number of times before they comprehend "paper". Same with "water". If you've ever brought a new born into a bath you'll remember the startled look and the instant screaming upon first contact with the stuff.

    Yet we read our fairy tales to these little infants. They have no understanding of the literary content but they do have an "ear" for the rhythm and the tone and the accents and emphasis placed on each word. This is where they begin to learn syntax and how to use language. Later, by about 2 years, they begin to absorb some of the histories embedded in the fairy tales... and the morals and consequence of action lessons. I don't know if this is in keeping with your thread.. thanks.
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