Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Poetry - Concrete and Abstract Language

Warmup: Copy and discuss the following poem by Emily Dickinson (born 1830, died 1886):

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

Students found definitions in the dictionary for words they didn't know. Then we talked about how metaphor is different from simile and found the metaphors in Dickinson's poem. Students found imagery and details in the poem that support the central metaphor, i.e. hope = bird.

Some helpful definitions:

simile: a comparison between two things using "like" or "as"

metaphor: a more direct comparison, not using "like" or "as"

cliche: anything that has become trite or commonplace through overuse

imagery: words or phrases that bring a picture to mind

concrete language: specific, descriptive words based in the senses: sight, touch, hearing, smell, and taste. Adjectives and verbs are often very concrete.

abstract language: ideas, concepts, not accessible through the senses. Words like truth, hope, justice, love, color, emotion, and transportation are all abstract. You know what they are, you can give examples of types of justice or types of transportation, but you can't touch, see, hear, smell, or taste them using your body. A lot of nouns are abstract.

It's confusing when we talk about feeling something, because we use the same word for feeling an emotion as we do for feeling an object. When I feel surprised it's a different beast than when I feel the warmth of the sun.

To help us figure out the difference, the class listed some concrete words for sounds that expressed abstract ideas like: Heart, hate, hope, heavy and happy. We got some great lists of very specific verbs for each abstract word. Individual students then made their own lists using as many concrete sense words for abstract words as they could.

No homework tonight.

Tomorrow: more work with using concrete language, plus alliteration and the exquisite corpse game.

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