What is an image?


The Sick Rose

O ROSE , thou art sick!

The invisible worm

That flies in the night,

In the howling storm,


Has found out thy bed

Of crimson joy,

And his dark secret love

Does thy life destroy.

William Blake




An Image Is Itself -

- Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral, whatever it happens to be. Whether or not it exists in real time-and-space doesn't really matter. Tigers (on the verge of extinction), dodos (extinct), dragons (mythical) and cows (very real) are all just themselves at this level. A rose = a rose = a rose = a ro


An Image corresponds to something else.

A one-to-one correspondence is easy to spot in a simile or in an allegory. The rose, for example, is associated with the object of desire.


An Image embodies something else.

This usually takes the form of metaphor. The sick rose in Blake's poem is also an embodiment of desire.


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An Image is all these several times over.

A good poet (like Humpty Dumpty) makes words work hard, so that one image has a concentration of meanings. Its links with other images (in Blake's poem, for example, with sickness and the worm) both enrich and limit the concentration of meanings. So Blake's rose is

a living thing,

and something that can be destroyed,

and something that both is and enjoys a "bed of joy",

and something inducing the worm's love,

and something diseased,

and it is a red rose....


But it's also clear that this particular rose has precious little to do with the Wars of the Roses. That would only be a distraction. Limiting meanings is as important as enriching them.

Look at the image patterning in your own poem. Are all the associations generated by your images helping the poem? Or are there some which distract?



Consider how to limit meaning.

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