extended metaphors

2 posts

Funeral for a Poem

Sometimes you meet poems in the strangest ways. I learned of C. P. Cavafy’s poem, “Ithaka” while reading about Jaqueline Kennedy-Onasiss’s funeral. The poem was read at the service by her longtime companion, Maurice Tempelsman.

Some don’t know that Mrs. Kennedy was a great champion of poetry and even wrote her own (read “Sea Joy” in the photo above). Her daughter, Caroline, would grow up to be an admirer of the genre as well, helping to put together a collection that is now out of print but garners high marks on book review sites.

I’ve since explored a lot of Cavafy’s work, but nothing seems to strike me the way this poem does. Using Homer’s Odyssey, the extended metaphor works perfectly. We are all headed toward our own separate Ithakas, and none of us is terribly intent on arriving at our home port. This poem captures the essence of that thought. “If not the journey, what?” it seems to say.

Below is the translation by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard as seen in C. P. Cavafy/Collected Poems, (Princeton University Press, 1992):


ITHAKA by C.P. Cavafy

As you set out for Ithaka

hope the voyage is a long one,

full of adventure, full of discovery.

Laistrygonians and Cyclops,

angry Poseidon — don’t be afraid of them:

you’ll never find things like that on your way

as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,

as long as a rare excitement

stirs your spirit and your body.

Laistrygonians and Cyclops,

wild Poseidon — you won’t encounter them

unless you bring them along inside your soul,

unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.

May there be many a summer morning when,

with what pleasure, what joy,

you come into harbors seen for the first time;

may you stop at Phoenician trading stations

to buy fine things,

mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,

sensual perfume of every kind —

as many sensual perfumes as you can,

and may you visit many Egyptian cities

to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.

Arriving there is what you are destined for.

But do not hurry the journey at all.

Better if it lasts for years,

so you are old by the time you reach the island,

wealthy with all you have gained on the way,

not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.

Without her, you would not have set out.

She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.

Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,

you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.



Extended Metaphors? Wash and Fold ‘Em.


Extended metaphors can be like a marathon, positively breathless to maintain in equal measure, but it’s worth it when you cross the finish line. And really, if your poem isn’t terribly long then your metaphor isn’t terribly extended, so why shy away from them?

For an example of a good “starter” extended metaphor, what about the natural parallels between love and laundry? But of course! We often think of the pair as similar. Or not.

But you will after you read a poet do it. You’ll say, “Oh, yeah. I see the connection. Why didn’t I think of that?” The short answer: Because you’re thinking of your own extended metaphor once you’re done reading this post.


Barton Sutter

Well, Old Flame, the fire’s out.
I miss you most at the laundromat.
Folding sheets is awkward work
Without your help. My nip and tuck
Can’t quite replace your hands,
And I miss that odd square dance
We did. Still, I’m glad to do without
Those gaudy arguments that wore us out.
I’ve gone over them often
They’ve turned grey. You fade and soften
Like the hackles of my favorite winter shirt.
You’ve been a hard habit to break, Old Heart.
When I feel for you beside me in the dark,
The blankets crackle with bright blue sparks.


In this case, the “extended” in Sutter’s metaphor is a sonnet’s length, is all. You can do it, too, in 14 lines or less. Rub your muse against a balloon or something, then touch it with your writing finger and see if there isn’t some static. Creative static extended till the end.