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The Transforming Image

Why do we call this a transforming image? Let us work directly on an example of a deceptively simple poem by A. E. Housman:

                          LOVELIEST OF TREES

               Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
               Is hung with bloom along the bough.
               And stands about the woodland ride
               Wearing white for Eastertide.

               Now, of my three-score years and ten,
               Twenty will not come again,
               And take from seventy springs a score,
               It only leaves me fifty more.

               And since to look at things in bloom
               Fifty springs are little room,
               About the woodlands I will go
               To see the cherry hung with snow.

Plato said that the distinguishing gift of poets is their ability to see similarities in dissimilar objects. In other words, the power of metaphor, which reveals magic in the eyes of the reader. 

In this poem we are looking at a single image - a flowering cherry tree. At first out of focus, bloom, the author keeps it secret whether it is pink or white, until it explodes white with all the triumphant attributes of Easter.

In the middle of the poem - the centre of the image he gives way to a riddle: how old is he? But then he returns to the initial idea, leading to the final note, which is the poem: snow.

Snow, all in that word the cold visitant: snow, the white flowering of winter, lingering a day or two until it melts away in the first sunlight, in summer no more than a cutting memory.

So what the cherry-bloom of our imagination is in normal circumstances, here it has been set in living relief: it has received the identity of snow. It is that magic that moves us, can you see?

Can you think of another metaphor to describe, or rather transform another daily object into a dream-like image one wouldn't otherwise imagine?

Building a transforming image

Going back to the metaphor we talked about above. Imagine that the poet, with his sharpened senses, sees in things their core secret. Calling one by name he summons its secret and then imprints it on the secret identity of another.

By doing this, the effect is that deep down, down where things discover their origins, the latter suffers this elemental transmutation - the thing is changed and its identity is renewed and enriched.The spell is cast. The prince is changed into the frog. It'll take a woman's kiss to restore him - but that's another magic.

Here's another transformer, by W. H. Davies:

               ... I turned my head and saw the wind,
                    No far from where I stood,
               Dragging the corn by her golden hair,
                    Into a dark and lonely wood.

What a lovely comparison of the countryside field to a gold-haired mistress pulled and pushed in the wind. There's nothing more tender and feminine than a field of ripe corn. The wind across the field does appear as a cold shadow dragging the corn. There's nothing so dank, sullen and watchful as the silence in a summer wood on a windy day. Magical precision.

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