Donne's Imagery: A Study in Creative Sources

By Milton Allan Rugoff | Go to book overview

I
THE IMAGE AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE

Of the many ways in which the creative imagination of great writers has been approached, the most alighted, I think, is that of imagery. The explanation is, perhaps, not too far to seek, for no matter what other functions it may fulfill, the most conspicuous, if not the most significant function of imagery has always been that of embellishment. As such it has generally been treated by rhetoricians as one more technical adjunct of style, another of the handmaidens of direct statement. Thus, under its rhetorical subdivisions of simile, metaphor, personification, allegory, and the like, it has been neatly tucked away in the strict pigeonholes of "figures of speech." When these have been disturbed or reconsidered it has most often been for the purpose of making new subdivisions or finer distinctions between them.

All this has a place and serves a purpose, but what it has almost completely obscured in the fact that an image is, in its content, one of the freest of the imaginative contributions that a writer may make to a given statement of meaning. Although the meaning he is trying to convey may govern the aim and purpose of the image, it will have no control over its substance and source; these the writer fixes upon almost at will. Because the image need meet the meaning of the passage only by way of analogy or illustration, the writer is left virtually untrammelled in his imaginative decision as to what its contents shall be. His fancy is given free rein--the wonderful liberty of developing a parallel or analogy out of anything from heaven, earth or the infinite world of the mind. Given such free

-13-

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