Poetry Writing Exercises Help
Extending Metaphor: After Pablo Neruda
In "The Queen," the renowned Chilean poet Pablo Neruda addresses his beloved saying "there are lovelier," "there are taller," and "there are purer" than she, but he says, no one else sees her crown and the carpet of gold at her feet when she walks by. When he sees her, the world is filled with hymns and bells. He ends his poem with three short lines: "Only you and I,/only you and I, my love,/ Listen to me."
Print a copy of Neruda's "The Queen" and think about the way the poet uses and extends his queen metaphor to describe his beloved and his love for her. Try this: Put the real name of your love or of someone you are close to in the center of a blank piece of paper. Think of metaphors for this person, things you might rename your love (newsstand, national park, spatula). Put those names around the person's name on the page. Think of more (pyrotechnical, beekeeper, baker, pole-vaulter). Come up with all kinds of terms: vacation, magician, maître d', silk scarf, Cracker Jacks, artist's palette, ocean crossing, take off, car chase, gardener.
Choose one metaphor that engages your attention and jot down the functions and actions of the thing or role you have selected: A gardener, for instance, tends plants, knows exactly what their soil requirements are, appreciates their colors and textures, among other things. Continue with this exercise using Neruda's strategy as a template: List as many things as you can that no one else notices that confirm your belief that your love is what you call him or her. Extend the metaphor you are making by branching into more images.
If I call my love a gardener, I may talk about how no one else sees his eyes taking in the blue of Himalayan poppies or the way he stakes the tallest stalks so they do not bend from the weight of the day's growth. After you have written the first part as far as you can take it, begin an ending stanza with the word "and" and follow it with the sensations that happen inside you when you are near your love or thinking about your love. Remember, what happens inside you is a consequence of what you've called your love. Neruda chose to name his love the queen because she set off bells in him, as the bells of churches would be set off when a queen visited. If my love is named a gardener, perhaps inside me a night-blooming lily opens. But I can't stop at one event that goes on inside of me. I must tell my love more about what nobody sees going on inside me when he is near. I must keep my thoughts in character with the name I've given my love: Not only does the night lily open inside me when I am in the presence of my love, but moonshine lights my way home, and I think of the way time prunes the weakest branches, allowing nutrients to foster thicker, stronger growth. When I awake near my love, all the cells in my body go tropic. I move from the dark to the light.
After you have described what happens inside you, end your poem with something you can share with your love. Neruda asks his love to listen with him. What do you want to tell your love to share with you? If I have chosen to call my love a gardener, perhaps I want to implore him to go out with me in noonday sun and see the top tips of manzanita leaves pointing directly to the sun, protecting the rest of the leaves' surfaces from dangerous heat: "We know how to protect the heart of love from all that attempts to bake it dry."
Put the words "After Neruda" under your title to show the debt you owe this brilliant poet. Invoking his name and thinking as he did will open you up to writing about love and its effects on you.
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