ONE BY ONE
12 Figures of Speech – Class 7 – Main Lesson
One by one they came,
From a pre-cast die
On a distant sky…dum, dum, dum…?
The trapeze artist caught himself humming that song again as he supervised the roustabouts erecting his rigging. High Flyer, as was his show name, was going to attempt a trick this season which had never been done before – and without a net! He was going to attempt to find Metaphysic Metonymy’s real name!!
…In a cloud of dust
To a town which lived on a road – so it goes…da, da, da…?
“What is that song?!!”
“Ahh, that was it! The sone was one I learnt at school – when was it? Class 7? Yes, the year just prior to leaping into the unknown and uncertain space called high school. Maybe that was where the seed of my aerial temerity was sown to become a circus performer?! Now what was that main lesson about?…apart from a traveling show that is?”
It was language; in terms of the Educational Zodiac, this calls on the inspirational impulses streaming into the souls of teacher and pupil alike from Aries, with its Sense of Word. High Flyer’s ruminations were interrupted as he checked one of the steel links of his apparatus.
“Now where was I? Ah yes, that aspect of the 12-fold Ego which calls on these Aries/Word faculties is, as Rudolf Steiner describes, Rationalism.”
In his reading of The Doctor’s work, he knew that this connected strongly with the Rational Soul; that cultural impulse brought into human evolution by the Greco-Roman Age. Maybe it was teaching with this spiritual wisdom as a background that gave him his power of rationality today? To be able to clarify his world in sharply defined and keenly honed concepts – to Fly!
So in this Language/Aries/Word/Rational stream, where did…what was that lesson about? …I know, it was The 12 Figures of Speech!! Of the 3 language strands of Writing, Expression and Reading? – now where was this one taught?! – that’s it, it was the Expression language main lesson for Class 7!
Expression calls on, first and foremost, the feeling life to awaken – to be more articulate. It is a soul-emphatic 3 weeks, where through a clear and colorful stream of images and information, the child’s word-expressive powers, illumined by the heart, are heightened, both in a verbal and written sense.
One by one they came,
To a place in a time
By a road with a sign,
Twelve circus travelers
Happy to arrive from their dreams – so it seems,
Twelve travelers so different it seems.
High Flyer caught a snatch of conversation from a couple of pretty girls as they were grooming their show horses – “…and I had to fight him off; he’s a bit of a stallion they say – this tentacles were all over me!” – “Ah, the mixed metaphor;” he smiled to himself “a large part of the 12 Figures of Speech lesson was devoted to drawing the children’s attention to the more common figurative errors.
These included tautology; the labored and inapt metaphor; the difference between simile and metaphor; the dreaded cliché; …! That may have been part of the nuts and bolts of the less…ahhrr, a cliché! …of the, um, more academic content of the lesson, but it was the class play at the end which was the cultural highlight.”
In later reflections on this exciting unit, High Flyer realized that his canny teacher, Jane, had actually written a metaphor of the whole class as the underlying texture of the script. Indeed each child was more emphatically one figure of speech than another.
One girl perennially expressed irony in her conversations; a boy, the epigram; while a third child constantly exaggerated his small world with hyperbole. Funny how I didn’t notice this self-evident type-casting at the time? Maybe this blend of reality and fantasy was why everyone threw themselves into the production with such enthusiasm. Now what was I…? oh no, so the teacher thought I was Pood ‘n’ Pie Personify – I was just the squeaking gate – a personification – of the class I suppose, when anything was a-miss, I’d be the one to complain!
One by one they stayed,
Those twelve gypsy tumbleweeds
Bearing heavy loads,
Setting up their tents
In a park beside the road – so it grows, so it grows.
Near a town in a park by the road.
High Flyer sat on an upturned bucket during a lull in the work and watched Maxwell Climax lovingly polish his ‘Human Cannonball’ cannon. He remembered enjoying both the story of the Climax, the 1st Figure of Speech, and its examples. How funny it was when Climax’s blast-off was a fizzer, creating, you guessed it – an Anticlimax! Ah, but Max regained his reputation when he pursued and caught a bag snatcher via a successful launch!
One by one they stayed
Their tents grew like toadstools,
Dust upon their jeans,
Magic was the gypsy’s game
And fantasy their means – so it seems, so it seems.
Twelve travelers so different int seems.
Climax is a series of ideas presented step-by-step like a ladder, to a final word or phrase which crowns the whole statement. Anti-climax is the same ascent of ideas, but with the final one dropping, usually with the use of the mundane, to earth again.
“Hi Alexander!” called High Flyer pleasantly as the show’s Promotions Officer hurried by with armfuls of posters and advertising copy for the local radio station. “That was the character” he recalled “that Jane used to portray the 2nd figure of Speech, Antithesis – the placing of words or ideas in direct contrast to achieve emphasis. Now what did Alexander Antithesis do in the story?…he wrote a spiel that appealed to both ‘good ol’ boys’ (wink, wink), and the local clergyman.
It was funny how he got it all round the wrong way at first, salaciously promising a night of white-hot entertainment with the ‘good time girls’ – and an inspiring Bible reading evening. On both occasions there was a disappointingly small attendance!
The wildest show with thrills and song,
Come bring your tiny tots along –
Hear the gong, join the throng.
The trapeze artist’s eye wandered into the open tent flap of Mirrilli Simile, The World’s Cleverest Make-up Artist!! Mirrilli could make anyone like someone else (or some thing else for that matter). After chatting to Mirrilli for some time, while she made a rock look like a gnome, High Flyer grew silent as he remembered the class exercises of Simile, the 3rd Figure of Speech.
As a 13-year-old, High Flyer had enjoyed the challenge of being given the first half of a sentence, with the children having to provide interesting similes for the second half. The make-up lady in the play got into trouble too, when asked by one of the gorgeous show girls to be made up to look like Nefertiti for an Egyptian number they were planning. So the poor girl was made-up to look like a 4000 year old corpse, a mummy covered in bandages!!
“I wanted to look like Nefertiti Was;” cried the girl “not how she is today!!” The simile lady did redeem herself though, when she transformed a hideously ugly girl int a beauty. Oh, no, here comes Mezmer Metaphor, the show’s resident magician – what mysteries is she dabbling in this time!?
“Hi Mezmer – yes, I can see that you’ve got a pig’s ear…you drop it into the black top hat…Wow! And out comes a silk purse! Well done, as usual you’ve changed something into something else. My, that reminds me of the Metaphor day in our 3-week main lesson all those years ago (with imagination in education, children have extraordinary recall of how they learnt something – Ed.)
I love the exercises where Jane would give us the statement, say ‘naughty boy’, and we would have to invent a hopefully original and/or humorous metaphor – maybe ‘cheeky monkey’ in this case. Then there were the inverted examples, where we would have the metaphor, and have to suggest the reality – cheeky monkey to naughty boy!
In our play, the magic metaphor girl accidently turned a lady’s baby into a piglet. You see, the baby dribbled, and the mother unwittingly said, ‘You’re a grubby little piggy aren’t you!’. Metaphor is of course the 4th Figure of Speech, where one actually changes one thing to another. In the end, she fixed things up though, and from the piglet, created Twins – just like the lady always wanted!
See miracles in power and paint,
A cow like a maid, a fiend like a saint.
Magic words can change all things,
Pigs to pearls, or post to pins –
Hear the din – you can win
As Mezmer Metaphor wandered off, Balloon Boy Hyperbole drifted into view – and drifted is the operative term! Due to the levity created by his many-colored, many-shaped balloons, his feet were always two feet off the ground. As usual he assailed High Flyer with extravagant descriptions of everything from ants to elephants – “Wow, see old Jumbo over there, he’s as big as a mountain!!”.
“We enjoyed lots of hyperbole,” thought High Flyer “the 5th Figure of speech, in Jane’s class too. I remember in the play how Balloon Boy’s airy products caused anger when they either burst, shrunk or floated away – and of how he gained his popularity by transporting, in zeppelin fashion, a sick child to the hospital.
Ho hum, as usual Hyperbole is followed by this opposite number, Ewie Euphemism – the Circus Fat Man! He’s all soft and pudgy is Ewie, which of course is what euphemism does to a statement, it mitigates or mollifies it. One doesn’t die, one ‘passes away’.”
“Hello High Flyer, that palomino stallion over there is not a bad bit of horseflesh he?”
Ewie sat down to rest – as usual – which gave High Flyer time to reflect on the euphemism in the play. (“m not fat, just a little plump that’s all.) Or how, when the local louts attacked poor Balloon Boy, Ewie stood in front, softening the blows. Inventing examples of euphemism from given statement was also fun.
One by one they played,
And the crowd came along
There was music and song,
Humor and tragedy,
Color and Word, so I’ve heard – so I’ve heard.
There was laughter and tears so I’ve heard.
High Flyer was surprised when behind a bush nearby, two friends could be heard babbling away between themselves. Not too surprised thought, when he realized that Pood ‘n’ Pie Personify, the Circus Ventriloquist and his precocious dummy, must be somewhere nearby.
And they were, with Pood personifying as usual, either through smart-aleck Pie, or through other non-human objects. How useful is this 7th Figure of Speech to writers and speakers. How much more feeling/expression enters the language when an ordinary gate becomes a being, squeaking in protest when being opened. Gates can’t ‘protest’, only humans can (or sentient being at least) – but personified gates do! High Flyer recalled examples like ‘smiling day’ and ‘laughing waters’.
Writing a passage on any of the 12 Figures of Speech was a popular class activity or – voluntary – assignment. In the play, Pie, the ventriloquist dummy, wouldn’t open his mouth during the show, making the audience angry. But then the resident bear broke free from his chain, creating panic in the packed tent. Pood ventriloquized, personifying the bear’s big belly – ‘Benny Belly! – which ordered him to go back to his booth so that he could be re-secured.
The bear, unused to being addressed by his own commodious abdomen, meekly obeyed. Pood and Pie were heroes! Other exercises were given, where a noun clause was provided, and the children had to complete the sentence with personification.
“Hello Flagpole.” Echoed a muffled voice from within an upturned baby bath nearby. “Okay, I’ve had enough voice-throwing for one day.” Answered a slightly jaded High Flyer. But Pood ‘n’ Pie had strolled off; only then did he lift the tub to reveal…Tiny Toots Apostrophe, the Circus Dwarf, or in this age of sensitivity, the ‘height-challenge’ member of the traveling show. Apostrophe, the 8th Figure of Speech, means ‘to turn from’.
In this case, to turn from the audience to address an inanimate things or non-present person. (I talk to the trees, that’s why they put me away!). Apostrophes are often in the form of monologues or soliloquies. In this spirit, Tiny toots ran out and began conversations with various things around the area, like clouds, plants, a bucket and, in uncomplimentary vein, with High Flyer’s skin-tight leotards!
In the play, tiny Toots Apostrophe would speak out – or apostrophize her colleagues, who formed a delegation to kick the diminutive but noisy girl out of the show altogether. “Goodbye cruel world.” She sobbed as she headed toward the gate. But I the critical hour, a terrible hailstorm (this is an ill-fated circus to be sure!) erupted, threatening to tear the tents to shreds. The only voice the storm could hear in the uproar was little Apostrophe’s, albeit through her mega-megaphone.
“Peace be still.” She called to the angry heavens, an effective if not original utterance – and it was.
Hurry up now an buy a balloon
As bright as the sun, as big as the moon!!
I’m the heaviest man alive today – so soft they say, so they say.
See the puppet jump and jive
I make the puppet come alive – we’re alive, we’re arrived!
I speak to the clouds, they know what I say – so they say, so I say.
High Flyer wandered over to Sideshow Alley, where U.U. Irony was attracting a crowd of young fair-goers. Y.U. ran the Test Your Strength booth; here aspiring muscle persons would hit a plate with a huge mallet. The machine would record their score, and if higher than Y.U.’s, they would win a Kewpie doll.
“That was like in the play at school.” The trapeze artist mused “where nobody would, and they all demanded their money back. However the irony person reclaimed her kudos by being the only one present who was strong enough to save a sun-away caravan from hurtling into the crowd. Her strength was used for constructive, not rip-off purposes.”
High Flyer like the powerful Y.U. Irony, or the better part of her at least. Irony, the 9th Figure of Speech, with a twist of humor, insight or wisdom even, is a marvelous language aid – but its dark side, sarcasm, is to be avoided, designed as it usually is, to be hurtful – and usually inaccurate! The 12 Figures of Speech should be constructive tools, not weapons. Again High Flyer remembered the fun exercises, where Jane would write up a statement, and the pupils would finish it – in the spirit of irony. “Win a Kewpie for your cutie…pick a color that matches her bleached hair!” (What’s that about ‘constructive?!)
One by one they go,
For the road leads on,
Soon they’ll all be gone
Where the 5 winds blow,
It’s a traveling show – so I know, so I know.
Many roads only travelers know.
“Hello High flyer – a drama critic is one who leaves no turn unstoned – ha, ha, ha!!” it was Wisewit Epigram (and George Bernard Shaw!); he carried a desk diary around, and continually amused, or informed, friends with his bottomless bag of witty and/or pithy sayings. These epigrams were by definition short and pungent.
The epigram, played by a cheeky but loveable boy all those years ago, had to make a terrible depressed friend laugh. Even with a flood of hysterically funny jokes and witticisms, he failed. As such, he himself contemplated suicide! For some reason, his melancholy friend found this droll indeed; and a smile became a grin, which begat a chuckle, which bespoke a giggle, which exploded into a full belly laugh! Yet again High Flyer recalled the fun exercises – more difficult this time – where, on a given theme (animals, politicians, friends), the class had to create original and hopefully clever epigrams.
After a rollicking laugh, and some soul-searching, inspired by Wisewit’s farewell epigrams, High Flyer strolled into the gambling tent of Snake Eyes Oxymoron. There he was, sitting at the green bias card table rolling dice. “Want to play the Losers are Winners game? You might lose your shirt – but you win friends doing it.” He said, as he did to everyone; guaranteed as he was to win (he had a whole caravan full of shirts!)
“I don’t know, life is such sweet sorrow.” Replied High Flyer.
“Ah, you’ve won this time, that was a good, if not original, example of oxymoron; you’re not the poor little rich kind you seem – sorry, that’s one to me.” The pair went on it this vein, each trying to out-oxymoron the other, just as happened in the school play so long ago.
Here the oxymoron (pronounced with the accent on the ‘y’, not the first ‘o’, preventing the word sounding like a feeble-minded bovine!) dice roller, coin spinner whatever, was conducting a game when the participants discovered that their wallets were stolen. There was a pick-pocket in the crowd! Initially the oxymoron man was blamed, and threatened with a good hiding.
But it was Snake Eyes Oxymoron who was the only one who could read eyes, so in a bid to save his own hide, he sat everyone around this table and looked for the tell-tale furtive flash…and there it was!! The thief was unmasked, and the wallets returned – to a healthy round of applause! Oxymoron, the 11th Figure of Speech, exercises in class consisted of Jane giving a single word, to which her young ‘snake eyes’ had to attach another to create an oxymoron.
Hey champion of the whole wide world
Ring the bell, impress your girl
What a pearl, she’s a whirl!
Laugh at me, laugh at me, I am the clown
I’m not only witty, I’m also profound
So I’ve found – so they found.
Join the game you can’t refuse
Black or white, it’s yours to choose
Win or lose – I can’t lose.
High Flyer walked out into the crowded loneliness to meet – well, no-one actually. Where was the 12thFigure of Speech, Metaphysic Metonymy? He could change his name at will (metonymy means ‘name change’). Or what was the shady forger calling himself today? Indian Ink? Sidney Signature?
Metaphysic Metonymy’s activities were always so secret, that he was rarely seen. Indeed no-one even knew which caravan he worked and lived in. What was known however was that when one wanted a name change, or a symbolic name to cover a complex idea, Metaphysic Metonymy was always available – if vicariously!
So many words we take for granted, when used in this representational sense, are metonymy – ‘frown’ for the whole monarchical edifice for instance; or ‘table’, meaning the whole meal, as in ‘he sets a good table’. Metonymy does not have a very creative element, we generally don’t make them up as we go along, but we can, stretching the children’s literary muscles to the limit.
In High Flyer’s erstwhile class the children were given various well-known metonyms; such as Uncle Sam, red tape, the bottle, and throne. There were then asked to place them in a sentence which expressed their metonymic value. Usually however Metonymy is a product of convention, a code which everyone accepts to lessen the need for long description.
No-one here shall know my name,
For never will it be the same –
Who’s to blame? – what a shame.
High Flyer went back to his own comfy tent after failing yet again to sleuth out the elusive Metonymy. He thought of the number 12 in relation to the Figures of Speech, and wondered if there was some zodiacal relationship embodied in this wisdom-filled aid to language expression. He had already noted that the 12 were neatly – too neatly for coincidence – arranged into 6 complementary pairs, either based on the principle of opposition or similarity, they are: Climax/Antithesis; Simile/Metaphor; Hyperbole/Euphemism; Personification/Apostrophe; Irony/Epigram; Oxymoron/Metonymy.
As the Figures of Speech infuse language with soul, he looked to that aspect of the Zodiac, to Rudolf Steiner’s ’12 Qualities’, to find a sign-figures relationship. With cultural matters, based on the body regions of Man, the zodiac begins in Aries (Aries is the region of the skull).
The 12 Zodiacal Qualities revealed by the Doctor begin with the Quality of Event in Aries; Climax expounds the great ‘events’ of life – Anticlimax cancels them! The there’s Antithesis, or Paradox as it’s sometimes called, in Taurus – ‘will’ is the Taurus Quality. Simile, the ability to make something like something else, could be Gemini, with its Quality of Faculty; Mirrilli was very skilled indeed! Her partner, Mezmer Metaphor, initiated change – ‘Initiative’, the Cancer Quality!
Then there’s Hyperbole, it’s connection to Leo, with its Quality of Enthusiasm, hardly needs justifying – nor does its partner, Euphemism, expressing the Virgo quality of Soberness, or restraint, as it does.
Personification is more cryptic, with its Libran Balance of thought Quality – one thought, two beings, or one being two thoughts – Pood ‘n’ Pie! Its other half is Apostrophe, the Scorpio figure perhaps? With its Quality of Understanding. Then to Irony, the iron ‘Resolve’ of Sagittarius – and it’s lighter counterpart, clever Epigram, the Capricorn Quality – Putting Thought into the World.
Oxymoron, with its left-right, good-bad, sweet-sour nature amplifies the Aquarius Quality, Man in a State of Balance – living between the extremes! Finally its mysterious partner, Metonymy, the Figure of Speech of Destiny, Quality of Pisces, as Rudolf Steiner tells us.
“So,” mused High Flyer “it was the ‘destiny; of this informative and entertaining Figures of Speech main lesson to be taught way back in 1976 – to be reborn as a lecture in 1994 – to be published in 1995! To be read, and hopefully profitably put into practice in….?
Here’s hoping creative teachers and carers everywhere can imbibe the essence (not necessarily the substance) of this lesson, transforming it into original and artistic images for their own children – so its destiny unfolds. One day some teacher – or 13-year-old child – may even find out what Metaphysic Metonymy’s real name is!
One by one they’ve gone,
But the lonely park
Won’t be always dark,
For the sun will rise
On a distant sky – from a dream – so it seems
From a sky with a dream so it seems –