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When you sense that a figure of speech is being used, you can apply the framework below for analyzing in detail the implications of the image.

For instance, the first verse of Amanda McBroom's "The Rose" is built on a sort of debate about love:

Some say love, it is a river that drowns the tender reed.

Some say love, it is a razor that leaves your soul to bleed.

Some say love, it is a hunger, an endless aching need.

I say love, it is a flower, and you its only seed.

Three very discouraging characterizations about love are contrasted to the speaker's more hopeful view of love, but each is a metaphor.

Basically, figurative language compares two things that are not comparable at first glance.  The cleverness of an image resides in finding some plausible basis of comparison.  So to understand a figure of speech, like a metaphor, you have to detect what is compared to what else and on what basis.

For example, how might love be like a river?

Figurative Image Literal "Picture"
1.) love 2.) river

3.) drowns

4.) (?) 5.) the tender reed

In this chart, the literal side (reading down the right-hand column) suggests a picture that you can see in your mind--a flooding river drowning the new and frail reeds along the river bank, perhaps in early spring.  So what does this violent picture suggest about "love"?  When love comes on too strong, perhaps early in a relationship, what is it that gets "drowned," in a sense?  Maybe interest or care or tenderness can be overwhelmed by one of the potential lovers coming on too strong. So this image might be completed by supplying the unstated portion:

Figurative Image Literal "Picture"
1.) love 2.) river

3.) drowns

4.) (interest? tenderness? desire?) 5.) the tender reed

Is this a mechanical process?  Well, it does seem to turn a metaphor into a sort of equation, doesn't it?  Nevertheless, if doing so can help you see an implication that you might not have noticed, the effort and the contrivance might be worth the trouble.

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