Garden of the Gods, Anna Chamberlain

Garden of the Gods, Anna Chamberlain

For those of you in the US and abroad that celebrate Thanksgiving I wish you a warm and happy holiday with your loved ones. I will be baking a nontraditional feast for my family and will be slow to make the rounds but promise to catch all of you within the next couple days. Today’s Meeting the Bar deals with conceit in poetry, a concept that you’ve likely employed before and will hopefully be an enjoyable one to revisit. Let’s start with a definition

Conceit is a figure of speech in which two seemingly dissimilar objects are grouped together with the help of similes or metaphors. Conceit develops a comparison which is unlikely but is, nonetheless, intellectually imaginative. A comparison turns into a conceit when the writer tries to convince us a similarity between two things of whose unlikeness we are strongly aware of and, for this reason, conceits are often surprising.’

According to Wikipedia: In literature, a conceit is an extended metaphor with complex logic that governs a poetic passage or entire poem. By juxtaposing, usurping and manipulating images and ideas in surprising ways, a conceit invites the reader into a more sophisticated understanding of an object of comparison. Extended conceits in English are part of the poetic idiom of Mannerism, during the later sixteenth and early seventeenth century.’

Let’s analyze a few examples of conceits in literature:

1. Shakespeare uses this concept in Act 3, Scene 5 of “Romeo and Juliet”. Capulet comes to Juliet’s room after Romeo has left. He finds her weeping and says:

“Thou counterfeit’st a bark, a sea, a wind;
For still thy eyes, which I may call the sea,
Do ebb and flow with tears; the bark thy body is,
Sailing in this salt flood; the winds, thy sighs;
Who, raging with thy tears, and they with them,
Without a sudden calm, will overset
Thy tempest-tossed body.”

This comparison is an extended metaphor. Capulet compares Juliet’s eyes to the sea, her tears to a storm, her sighs to the winds and her body to a boat within the tempest.

2. Here is a sample from a metaphysical poet of the 17th century, John Donne with his poem “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”:

“If they be two, they are two so As stiff
Twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fix’d foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th’ other do.

And though it in the center sit,
Yet, when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.”

This is one of Donne’s most ingenious conceits. He compares his and his beloved’s souls with the two legs of drafting compass. He says the bodies of lovers may be separate like the two legs of a compass but are always joined together at the top. This reminds us of the spiritual union of lovers.

3. Here is a more contemporary excerpt from Machines by Michael Donaghy

“Dearest, note how these two are alike:
This harpsicord pavane by Purcell
And the racer’s twelve-speed bike.”

The rest of the poem can be found here.

Conceits make unusual and unlikely comparisons between two very different things, allowing readers to look at the world in a new way. Similes and metaphor may explain things vibrantly but they tend to become boring at times because of their predictable nature. Conceits, on the other hand, surprise and shock the readers by making farfetched comparisons. Hence, conceit is used as a tool in literature to develop the interest of the readers. Helen Gardner observed that “a conceit is a comparison whose ingenuity is more striking than its justness” and that “a comparison becomes a conceit when we are made to concede likeness while being strongly conscious of unlikeness.”

Please write an extended metaphor poem, or passage of conceit and link up at the bottom of the post.

To participate:

• Copy the direct link to the URL and paste it, along with your name, in the Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post.

• Engage in community building, a primary principle here at the pub, by investigating the work of others, reading and commenting. One of the best ways to become a better poet is to read and reflect on the work of your peers. Please provide positive, constructive feedback and appreciation. It’s how we show respect for one another at the pub.

• Share your work and that of others on your social networks. Encourage other poets to join us here at the pub.