Metaphor within a Simile

Metaphor within a Simile September 2, 2010

A line from Dickinson: “the nerves sit ceremonious like tombs.”  This is an extremely complex literary device, or set of devices.

First, personification: The nerves “sit” like people, and sit in a particular way, ceremoniously.

Second, the personification spreads out to evoke a scene.  Ceremonious sitting takes place in church, at weddings, or, as in this poem, at funerals.

Third, the personification itself is encompassed and somewhat canceled by another device, the concluding simile.  The whole scene of nerves-sitting-ceremoniously is compared to “tombs.”

Fourth, this creates a scene change: The ceremoniously sitting nerves are now tombstones in a cemetery.

In sum: Nerves are people.  But the people are like tombstones.  So nerves are people who are tombstones.

And all in six words.

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