Poetry of Nature: How Physical Laws Are Represented in Metaphors

Updated on January 22, 2018
Half Moon Bay
Half Moon Bay | Source

Poetry Is Filled With Recurring Metaphors

Some metaphors are so common that they seem to overlap in nearly every culture's poetic tradition. Understanding why these archetypal metaphors appear across cultures is a matter for psychological and anthropological debate. As a poet, I can't pretend to understand the origins of consciousness, nor can I explain what a metaphor is in any neurological terms; however, I can dissect the emotional truths we find hidden within these recurring metaphors.

In this article, I will analyze three common nature-based metaphors and I will attempt to explain any connections that might exist between how these metaphors make us feel and the natural processes behind the imagery.


Smoke

Smoke has been used as a metaphor since humankind first created fire. Simply put, smoke is the suspension of carbon and other compounds and elements as heat burns or melts inorganic or organic matter. Heat vibrates the atoms faster and faster until they move apart from each other, and the burning object either melts or bursts into flames.

Meanings associated with smoke:

  • Death
  • The ephemerality of life
  • A coming disaster
  • The fragility of memory
  • The transition from the waking world into the spirit world
  • The memory of pain
  • The shadow of war
  • The underworld

In poetry, the spiraling of smoke often represents the feeling of spiraling out into oblivion. The spiral dissipates as it spins, warm atoms vibrate faster and faster, moving away from each other rapidly. The spiraling of smoke makes the movement of the air visible. The invisible cycles of heating and cooling are made visible as well. Smoke is the aftermath of destruction, the memory of a violent release of energy. It's easy to see why this metaphoric image has never gone away and why it will continue to be used by generations of poets to come.


Shadow and Tree
Shadow and Tree | Source

Trees

Given that there are many diverse species of trees and plants around the world, the meanings associated with one species of tree or plant may not apply to another. Think about the difference between hemlock and lilacs. That being said, there are common archetypical meanings associated with trees across many cultures.

Meanings associated with trees:

  • Family and relationships
  • Symmetry and bifurcation
  • Evolution
  • The mother figure
  • The father figure
  • New beginnings (new leaves)
  • The inescapable cycle of life and death (Autumn/dropping leaves)
  • The ancient patterns of history
  • Unity

Trees are made of many branches but all branches originate from an original source. This is ancient wisdom and it's easy to see why people would use the tree as a symbol of unity and the familial. Given that family, the seasons, and the cycles of life and death are inherent to all living things, trees are still one of the most common metaphoric images used in poetry today.



Snake River Canyon
Snake River Canyon | Source

Water

Water moves in all directions and can fit into any crevice. Humankind has assigned an onslaught of metaphoric meanings to water. Not surprisingly, water is one of the most common recurring images throughout all eras of poetry and across all genres of poetry. Water brings all of life together but also dissolves anything that lingers for too long in its depths. It only makes sense that the metaphoric meanings associated with water are a mixture of destruction and culmination.

Meanings associated with water:

  • Wearing down/erosion
  • Persistence
  • The turbulent nature of time
  • Tranquility
  • The life force
  • Adaptability

I find water's adaptability to be its most romantic quality. Literally, thousands of poems associate water with love. Just as love is fluid and ever-shifting, water takes the shape of any container it is placed inside of. Love is a feeling that shifts and morphs over time. Like water, love is a source of energy that flows and ripples outward across generations. Given how adaptable and transformative water is, it's easy to see why this metaphoric image is the most common image in the history of poetry.

Life Is as Much a Metaphor as It Is a Physical Thing

Knowing where, when, and how humans began shaping nature into metaphors is unknown, but continuing to analyze these ancient metaphors makes a reader reexamine his/her connection to the natural world in a positive way. Poetry anthropomorphizes the natural world, seeing the patterns of nature as mirroring the patterns of human life. It only makes sense that the elements of the natural world that we depend on, and use to regulate our bodies, would become the most widely used images in poetry.

To truly dissect humankind's complex relationship with nature-based metaphors would take two-hundred more pages. If you find yourself wanting more information and examples about the natural world's influence on poems and poets, I advise visiting the "nature" section on the Academy of American Poet's website.

Which natural image is your favorite?

See results

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)