Making Synecdoche Work For You

grave

We’ve been looking at a lot of poems that use personification of late. Here’s one that employs the rhetorical device known as synecdoche.

As defined by Mental Floss, a website that cleans the brain, “A synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a part or component of something is used to represent that whole—like calling a car your ‘wheels,’ the staff of a company the ‘hands,’ or the film industry as a whole ‘Hollywood.’”

In other words, synecdoche is something we use every day. We just don’t know it because we didn’t know the name.

Name? Funny I should say that. Your name is a part of you that becomes you. Think reputation. But the poet Danusha Laméris went one step further. She thought mortality. Names die, after all, as they rise and ultimately fall in popularity. True, some pull the Lazarus act and make comebacks, but when’s the last time you saw a baby named Lazarus? (Another rhetorical device, called “the rhetorical question”).

Let’s see synecdoche at work:

 

Names
Danusha Laméris

What happens to the ones that fall out of favor:
the Dorises and Archibalds,
the Theodores and Eunices?
They all had their day,
once roamed the earth in multitudes
alongside Gerties and Wyatts—
at least one in every classroom.
Names written in neat block print,
scratched into tree bark,
engraved on heart-shaped lockets,
filling the morning paper
with weddings and engagements.
How could they have known
that one-by-one the Constances
and Clydes would disappear,
replaced by Jennifers, Jacobs,
Ashleys and Aidens.
That few would ever dance again,
corsages pinned to their breasts
or hear their names on the radio
whispered in dedication,
or uttered in darkness
by a breathless voice,
or even shouted out in anger—
Seymour!”—
as they grabbed the keys and stormed out the door.
Each name fading quietly from daily life
as though it had never existed,
except for the letters etched into stone,
warmed by the sun
and at night, lit by a crescent moon.

 

Interesting, the way our names “live” beside us only to lie down above us. It’s not the way we think of them, typically. It’s the way a poet thinks of them. It’s why we read poetry.

 

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