Ray's Introduction to Literature, Fall, 1998 Kate's  Denotation and Connotation (2)
Online Discussion-- Ray's Class; Kate's Class
 last updated 11/20, 98
Imagery & Symbolism
Examples:     L Hughes  -- W. Stevens -- T. Hardy --  E. Pound --  R.. Frost
Image, Imagery & Imagism 

Image means "a concrete picture" (Harper Handbook 235).  In daily language image is usually a composite of visual details, but literary images can be those of sights, sounds, tastes, touch and smells.   When your composition teacher asks you to give concrete, sensory details in your narrative, you are asked to recall/re-create images of your experience so that your readers can experience and feel them, too.  If you give your images figurative meanings or other meanings beyond the literal level, you are creating figurative images (metaphors or similes) or symbols.  

In other words,  

  • "When an image is made to stand for two things, as when a rose represents itself and also the color in a young woman's cheeks, the image turns into a METAPHOR, SIMILE, or other form of FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE.  [e.g. "A Simile for her Smile"]
  • When an image is used so as to suggest complex or multiple meanings, as when a rose represents itself, young women generally, and also beauty and fagility, it becomes a SYMBOL." [e.g. the yellow wallpaper] (Harper Handbook 236)
Imagery is the collective term for "images of a literary work."   By itself, an image of a text  can only be a sensory detail, but once it is associated with the other images in the text, its figurative or symbolic meanings will emerge.  That's why we study the "imagery" --or different clusters of images -- of a literatery work, but not an image in isolation from the others.  

Imagism is a movement -- led by some American poets (e.g. E. Pound, W. C. William, etc.) in early twentieth century -- against "Romantic idealism and Victorian moralism" (Harper Handbook 238)  
For instance, Pound defined the image as "that which presents an emotional and intellectual complex in an instant of time." He released "A Few Don'ts for an Imagist" which included three principles  
1) direct treatment of the "thing", whether subjective or objective,  
2) using absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation, and  
3) to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in the sequence of the metronome." (from Imagists)


In its broadest sense a symbol is any object, action or sign that "signifies more than itself" (Heath Guide to Literature 545).  For instance, the cross, the number of candles on a birthday cake, the signs on the restroom, the red-yellow-green traffic light, our clothing,  . . . , all of these are symbolic or have symbolic values.  Human communication largely depends on these various kinds of symbolic language. 

Symbolism is  "a hightened use of symbol, presenting the word first for its ordinary signification (as when the word rose stands for the flower rose) and then for some idea lying behind the ordinary signification (as when the word rose stands for the flower rose, which stands for beauty). 
      Symbols used in this way fall into three classes:  

  1. Natural symbols  -- present things not for themselves, but for the ideas people commonly associate with them [what we also call archetypes]: e.g. night for death; sunrise for a new beginning;
  2. Conventional symbols -- present things for the meanings people within a particular group have agreed to givev them: e.g. a national flag for patriotism, etc.;
  3. Literary symbols -- 
    • sometimes build upon natural or conventional symbols, adding meanings appropriate primarily within a work at hand, 
    • but sometimes they also create meanings within a work for things that have no natural or conventional meaning outside it. (Harper Handbook 452-53)
L Hughes   "Harlem" (1951 502) 
  1. The questions in this poem contain a series of metaphors, or metaphoric images, each of which suggests the situations, or sentiments, or consequences of one's getting one's dream (or the American Dream) deferred.   Try to find out what each implies.  For instance, why is dream compared to a grape/raisin, to sore and rotten meat?  Why are these negative images associated with sugar, which is "syruppy sweet"?  Why does the deferred dream "sag" or "explode"? 
  2. Compared with "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" (1921 p. 761), how is the poem different in tone? 
  3. Can you find out any similarities in the two poem's language--both in terms of syntax and the use of images? 
W. Stevens  "Disillusionment of Ten o'clock"  
His Photo & Questions about the Poem in General
  1. Look at the colorful version of this poem.  Although it looks "colorful," the colors on this page are actually non-existent.  When you put all the color images together, you see a contrast between white and the other colors.  What symbolic meanings are suggested out of this contrast between white color and the other colors? 
  2. Why do you think about the drunk and sleeping sailor who "Catches tigers/In red Weather?" 
  3. What do you think about the poem's repetition of words, the parallel sentences and the rimes?  Do they create a kind of power as that in Langston Hughes' poems?  Or do they suggest monotony?
T. Hardy "Neutral Tones" (E-Text) 
  1. The word "tone" here is a pun.  Find out its meanings.
  2. What tones (attitutes) does the speaker take towards the woman he speaks to?  Why does he speak to her?  What has happened between them?  Why does he talk about this past experience when probably the lover ("you") is no longer present ? 
  3. Analyze the image pattern of the poem.  The poem is divided into two parts: the first three stanzas about a moment in the past, the fourth, the "lessons" the speaker learns. 
    • In the first part, several images-- figurative and literal--work to present the scenery, the speaker's mood as well as the relationship between the two.  First, try to group them into different clusters (for instance, image of color, winter and death), and analyze how they express both literal and figurative meanings.
    • Second, analyze how the images in the last stanza are related to each other, and those in the previous stanzas?  The second part about the speaker's memory offers a fusion of the images of the lover's face with those of the scenery.   It offers a succinct conclusion to a failed love story, and it also shows how memory works--that we frequently think/feel in terms of visual images. 
Relevant Links 
  • Another poem by Hardy in Fu Jen English Literature Databank.
  • A biographical sketch with photos
  • Thomas Hardy website: A brief date-line listing important events in Hardy's life, plus other valuable information
  • The Thomas Hardy Association

    Ezra Pound "In a Station of the Metro" (1916 p. 677) 
    His Photo
    Robert Frost  "Mending Wall" (1914 p. 748) 
    His Photo and Questions about the Poem in General
    1. This poem is not as dense with images as "Neutral Tones" is, yet it has the "wall" as the major symbol.   To find out the connotations of this symbol, you need to examine both how it is presented and the images/characters associated with it.  As we suggested in the general questions, there are four major characters, each is associated with different images:  
    2. neighbor --  
      "Good fences makes good neighbors." 
      old-stone savage; in darkness 
      Something -- 
      frozen -ground - swell 
      hunters -- 
      yelping dogs 
      the speaker --  
      Examine the images associated with these agents who are for or against the wall, and find out the the meanings of the wall, as well as the speaker's attitudes toward it.  (Why does the speaker inform his neighbor of the gap if he does not find the wall necessary?  Why is Spring both a time for mending , and creating mischief in the speaker?) 
    3. Like "The Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock," this poem has a lot of repetitions (e.g. "Something"; "To each the boulders that have fallen to each/And some are loaves and some so neatly balls" ).  Moreover, it has a regular form (iambic pentameter).  What are the effects of the repetitions and regularity in form? 
    General Questions: 
    All the five poets here are Modern poets (Hardy being an early Modernist).  Although definitions of Modern period (or Modernism) is not our focus in class, please remember that it is a period when people lost their faith in traditional values (such as God, Reason or progress) and then the artists sought to find values in Art or artistic innovation.  
    Also, try to compare how some of the poems deal with  
    1. human relations ("Neutral Tones" and "Mending Walls");  
    2. modern technology ("In the Station of the Metro");  
    3. society/social problems ("Harlem" and "Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock").