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Using a simple, but a meaningful poem for young adults, an educator can demonstrate how an image has both a literal and a metaphorical meaning.

As an English educator at the community college level for nearly 35 years, this writer has tried teaching the concept of metaphor to students in a variety of ways, many of which have failed. It took years, but being a paper helper, I finally found a poem that works with most students, most of the time, in helping them grasp the beauty, meaning, and fun of the poetic metaphor.

A Poem with Two Simple Metaphors

One of the most successful contexts in which to teach metaphor is the poem by Thomas Hornsby Ferril, “Always Begin Right Here Where You Are.” This poem, fewer than 50 words, is reproduced below:

“Always Begin Where You Are”

Always begin right here where you are

And work out from here:

If adrift, feel the feel of the oar in the oarlock first,

If saddling a horse let your right knee slug

The belly of the horse like an uppercut,

Then cinch his suck,

Then mount and ride away

To any dream deserving the sensible world.

Thomas Hornsby Ferril (1896 – 1988)

Metaphors Fit the Poet’s Experiences

Ferril’s poetry typically focused on the Rocky Mountain region of the United States, especially around Colorado. In fact, from 1979 until he died in 1988, he held the position of Poet Laureate of Colorado.

The poem’s two images – rowing a boat and saddling a horse – evoke the great outdoors that might be enjoyed Out West. However, the message will be meaningful to youngest adults almost anywhere, as they try to navigate the course of their own lives.

The Oar and Oarlock Metaphor

All metaphor begins with imagery. In a poem, the image must be an intrinsic part of the whole poem. In “Always Begin Where You Are,” the first concrete image takes up only one line. It is both a muscular and a visual image: “If adrift, feel the feel of the oar in the oarlock first.”

This image has two parts: First, a rower is “adrift.” Second, the rower must set the oars into their oarlocks and feel the current moving against those oars. So reddit best essay writing service points out that students must first sense this image: see it, feel it. Imagine sitting in a rowboat, with only oars to keep you on course. If the rower is to have any control of the boat, he must hold onto those oars.

Once students have this image clearly in their minds and muscles, the instructor can proceed to the next image.

The metaphor of Saddling a Horse

Again, students must first imagine the literal scene the image evokes. They must try to imagine themselves standing beside a horse, trying to get saddled and ready to ride. Again, this metaphor can be imagined in the muscles: “slug the belly of the horse like an uppercut,” and “cinch his suck.”

The image “cinch his suck” has to do with tightening the cinch around the horse when the horse is sucking in, not when he’s deliberately bloating his belly. Horses are smart, and will sometimes push out their bellies when they’re being cinched, so the cinch will loosen when they suck in their bellies. Then – guess what happens to the rider!

Put the Images Together

Once the students have these two images in mind, the instructor can begin to elicit the metaphorical meaning of the poem. These questions might help:

  • If the power of the boat does not have the oars in the oarlock, what might happen?
  • If the horseback riders saddle is loose and slips, what will happen?
  • What’s the poetic idea here, then? Try to put that idea into one or two sentences.

Teaching the Message of the Metaphors

Both of the images in this poem are about individuals gaining control of the particular situation with which they are currently confronted. So educators from DoMyWriting say that the message is something like: To start moving toward a goal, or at least moving away from chaos, you need to get a handle on the current situation right now. That is, before doing anything else, you need to gain control.

Mount and Ride Away to Any Dream Deserving the Sensible World

This final line of the poem culminates the horse saddling metaphor and states the message metaphorically. One cannot mount and ride away on a loosely saddled horse: the results would be disastrous. How does a dream become sensible? What kind of dream deserves a sensible world? What are the dual meanings of the word, “sensible”? Is there an oxymoron in this last line? How does this last line relate to the two metaphors in the poem?

Adding Personal Metaphors

Rowing and horseback riding might not experience common to all or even most students. To turn this into a more personal poem, students can replace the poem’s two images with images of their creation, out of their own experiences. This will, of course, also change the final and climactic image of the poem. There’s a great opportunity to teach students about unity in a poem!