A metaphor is, of course, a form of figurative
language in which an unknown, or lesser known, term is expressly compared
to a better known term in order that the latter may illuminate the former.
In the language put into common usage by the British critic I.
A. Richards, the unknown term is designated the "tenor,"
while the known term is called the "vehicle."1
A true understanding of metaphor--as Barfield insists throughout his writings
(for the nature of metaphor is one of his key subjects)--must evoke the
entire evolution of consciousness
and requires, in particular, a concomitant understanding of the meaning
"In order to have a metaphor," Barfield explains
in Speaker's Meaning,
But it would be a mistake to assume, therefore
that the same process has always governed the production of metaphor. A philological
investigation into human history reveals no metaphorical period in prehistory,
no time when metaphoric language was the norm:
you must begin by being aware of at
least two meanings--two meanings, or sets of meanings, which however vague
and ill defined they may be in themselves, are not vague, but sharply distinguished
from one another; first the lexical, or normal, meaning and, secondly,
the speaker's meaning which you now intend the word or phrase "figuratively"
to bear. In order therefore to perform the deliberate act of making the
outer become a 'vehicle" of the inner, you must first have a word with
an exclusively outer meaning.
"It is the peculiarity of metaphorical language,"
Barfield observes, "that, at first sight, it does often resemble very closely
the language of participation; though upon closer examination its existence
is seen to depend precisely on the absence of participation" (SA
nothing is to be got from the study
of language which indicates either that such meanings existed in earlier
times or that they are found today in primitive speech. All that the study
of language does indicate is that they have come about as part of that
historical process which I have called contraction; whereas the use of
metaphor always operates to expand meaning. (63-64)
In Poetic Diction Barfield quotes Shelley
(from the "Defence of Poetry"):
The original "metaphors" which shaped language,
Barfield contends, were thus quite distinct from the metaphors produced
by conscious minds. Once "the principle of living unity" (as he calls it
in Poetic Diction, echoing Shelley) produced the metaphors. Now
it is the consciousnesses of individual poets which creates them.
Metaphorical language marks the before
unapprehended relations of things and perpetuates their apprehension until
words, which represent them, become, through time, signs for portions or
classes of thought, instead of pictures of integral thoughts. (67)
Always anxious to refute the tenets of his contemporaries
the linguistic analysts, Barfield
observes in "The Meaning of 'Literal'" that
At a later stage in the evolution
of consciousness, we find [the principle of living unity] operative in
individual poets, enabling them . . . to intuit relationships which their
fellows have forgotten-relationships which they must now express as metaphor.
Reality, once self-evident, and therefore not conceptually experienced,
but which can now only be reached by an effort of individual mind--this
is what is contained in a true poetic metaphor; and every metaphor is "true"
only in so far as it contains such a reality, or hints at it. The world,
like Dionysus, is torn to pieces by
pure intellect, but the poet is Zeus;
he has swallowed the heart of the world; and he can reproduce it in a living
In fact something quite different is taking place
in metaphoric language:
There is a school of thought which
holds that the tenor of a meaningful metaphor could always, if it were
thought fit, be expressed literally. The passenger in the vehicle could,
if he chose, get out and walk. If it were not so, these thinkers hold,
the tenor would not deserve the name of "meaning" at all; it would amount
to no more than an emotional overtone. (RM 34)
Because "metaphor involves a tension between two
ostensibly incompatible meanings," it involves as well "a tension between
that part of ourselves which experiences the incompatibles as a mysterious
unity and that part which remains well able to appreciate their duality
and their incompatibility." "Without the former," we would do well to recall,
"metaphor is nonsense language, but without the latter it is not even language"
When we use language metaphorically,
we bring it about of our own free will that an appearance means something
other than itself, and usually, that a manifest "means" an unmanifest.
We start with an idol, and we ourselves turn the idol into a representation.
We use the phenomenon as a "name" for what is not phenomenal. And this
. . . is just what is characteristic of participation.
"A good, a wise, a true metaphor," Barfield
insists in "Dream, Myth and Philosophical Double Vision," "is not just
a device for lobbing us abruptly out of ordinary into a-consciousness,
out of time into eternity, out of the communicable into the ineffable."
Rather, the true metaphor
afford[s] us a vision of some particular
intermediate stage between the two extremes of the continuum. It trains
us in the tensive and laborious problem of adding extraordinary consciousness
to ordinary consciousness. It is likely, then, to become more rather than
less unpopular with those who are primarily interested in short cuts to
bliss. Intermediate stages are not their portion. (RM 30)
|See in particular "Language and Discovery"
(PD 143-54), "Language and Poetry" (PD 93-101), "Metaphor"
|1We would do
well to remember, Barfield reminds, that "Any specifically new use of a
word or phrase is really a metaphor" (PD 112).
in English Words provides a plethora of examples of the metaphoric
development of our understanding. Here is one:
The phrase 'high tension,' used of the relation between human beings,
is a metaphor taken from the condition of the space between two electrically
charged bodies. At present many people who use such a phrase are still
half-aware of its full meaning, but many years hence everybody may be using
it to describe their quarrels and their nerves without dreaming that it
conceals an electrical metaphor-just as we ourselves speak of a man's 'disposition'
without at all knowing that the reference is to astrology. . . .
The scientists who discovered the forces of electricity actually
made it possible for the human beings who came after them to have a slightly
different idea, a slightly fuller consciousness of their relationship with
one another. They made it possible for them to speak of the 'high tension'
between them. So that the discovery of electricity, besides introducing
several new words (e.g. electricity itself) into our everyday vocabulary,
has altered or added to the meaning of many older words, such as battery,
broadcast, button, conductor, current, force, magnet, potential, tension,
terminal, wire, and many others. (12-13)