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Imagery is a common term for linguistic images – also called tropes. When using imagery, the text is colored; a mood is added. A sensibility is created. Linguistic images typically occur when words are used in a context they are not usually associated with. Quite a few of these linguistic images have become such an embedded part of our language that we do not even notice them. This applies, for example, “to be far out”. Literally, it means that you are far away, but it is used about a person who has no control over his life, or can be used to describe an argument that is unsustainable. These linguistic images, which have become such a natural part of our language that we do not perceive them as linguistic images, are also called “Cognitive Metaphors”. In this section you can read about linguistic images, which have typically not become such a natural part of the language – and which are particularly poetic, but also use prose.

Comparisons and metaphors

The two key concepts in imagery are comparison and metaphor. Common to the two concepts is that they describe linguistic phenomena in which a real plane borrows meaning from a picture plane or said in another way; a target area borrows meaning from a source area: There is something to describe (the real plane or target area) and something to describe it (the image plane or source area). The difference between a comparison and a metaphor is the word ‘like’.

A comparison contains the word ‘like’ (or end), and a metaphor does not.

In the two examples, the sender has a desire to describe a ‘you’ and has found that ‘praise’ is the word that best describes ‘you’. ‘You’ are, in fact, not a rose, but are characterized as a rose in transmitted meaning by the use of imagery. But what part of the rose is there to describe you? Is it the thorns, is it the color of the red leaves, is it the fragile but beautiful head or just the beauty of the rose? It is not readable from the picture, but a rose usually has a positive connotation attached to it. It is therefore typical in imagery that the real plane only borrows meaning from parts of the image plane.

In poems, the imagery is often tremendously more complex than the example above. Here you really need to keep your tongue straight in your mouth and find out what is real plane and what is picture plane: “Lie a dream, my Spring flower is gone”

This is how the poem The Young Poets Complaint by Schack von Staffeldt begins. Here the imagery is a bit more complex. The real plane here is the ‘spring flower’ and it has disappeared, just like a dream disappears when you wake up. The dream is thus the picture plane. Positive, but also negative connotations are associated with the word ‘dream’. Dreams are typically positive and somewhat comfortable, but at the same time, dreams are just a dream and not something that (yet) has manifested itself in the world; it is volatile and disappears again, to which something negative is attached. Later in the poem it turns out that the ‘spring flower’ must also be understood in a transferred sense and thus not as a concrete spring flower. The spring flower turns out to be a metaphor for the lyrical self’s youth ideals and performances. Therefore, it makes good sense that the picture plane is ‘dream’, for dreams are part of the same semantic field as ‘imagination’ and ‘ideals’. The verse itself does not include the real plane for which ‘spring flower’ is the pictorial plane, and this can only be interpreted as you progress further in the poem.

Covering and personification

Under the ‘metaphor’ category, there are two special types of metaphors: shading and personification. What they have in common is that the image plane is human properties or body parts, but the real plane is for the specific concrete objects to be seen and touched, while the real plane of the personification is unconstrained phenomena and concepts, such as love, death, life, dreams and ideals. So in a personification, love and similar concepts gain human properties, while in the soul, specific things gain human properties. Here are a few examples:

  • Besjæling
    The skeletal fingers of the tree knock on the window
    real plane image plan
  • The sun’s morning mile illuminates the green meadow real plane image plan
  • Impersonation
    The shadow of death casts darkness upon my life
    real plane image plan

He was gripped by the embrace of love real plane image plan


The symbol is a special type of imagery. Symbols such as linguistic tropes are characterized by the fact that symbols are concrete objects which have both a concrete, non-symbolic meaning, but also have a symbolic meaning. Symbols can thus be difficult to find in a text, because they are not immediately discovered, but only later in the textual analysis can one perceive a specific object or phenomenon as a symbol. An example is the ring in the book and the movie Lord of the Rings. The ring is a ring that must be destroyed in Mordor, and the ring can be seen as concrete and only concrete. But in addition to being a concrete ring, it also has a symbolic meaning, symbolizing evil and power. An evil to which man is attracted, but which Frodo and Sam cannot be challenged.

So symbols are thus objects (typically) or persons that have a specific meaning, but they can also be assigned a symbolically transmitted meaning, a symbolic meaning.

Symbol analysis is therefore typically quite interpretive, as texts do not necessarily explicitly / directly indicate that an object or person has a symbolic meaning. Therefore one has to interpret. And such symbolic interpretation requires that one have thoroughly analyzed his text, so that symbolic analysis is in continuation of what one has already analyzed (in the case of the Lord of the Rings, one must have analyzed himself until the battle between the good and the evil prior to the symbol analysis of the ring).


Metonymy is to mention a small part that refers to a larger context, or a small part that is associated with something larger. Where the metaphor is based on the fact that the image plane / source area is outside the real plane / target area and transfers meaning to the real plane, then the metonymy is a ploy where the focus is on a part of the real plane, but is actually trying to describe, or apply a larger whole to to describe a smaller part of the real plane: the part represents the whole, or the whole represents the part.

An example where a larger whole describes a smaller part of the real plane: “UK is a country that takes care of the weakest in society” (after all, it is not the country that UK does, but the people who inhabit the country. UK ( the whole) stands for the part (the people).

Example where a small part should describe the entire real plane: “She was met by the love eye of the eye” (the eye, the part, points to the whole: He is in love with her. It is not just the eye that is in love, but the whole of him).


Allegory is an expression of a chain of symbols. This means that there are several symbols that are linked to each other, so that more elements must be understood as an expression of something else.

Post Author: Windy Le

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