Robinson Jeffers

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Discuss the use of figures of speech in Robinson Jeffers' poem "Hands."

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Jeffers uses figurative language in order to convey the idea that life is fleeting and that we, too, will someday pass away, leaving things behind to be interpreted by future generations. The speaker describes a painting left by people long ago, "a cloud of men's / palms, no more." This metaphor, comparing the multitude of hands to a cloud draws attention to the ephemeral nature of our existence; we think of clouds as being passing and transient, but our lives are too, in the grand scheme of the earth, though we often don't think about it this way. The simile describing this work of art as being "like a sealed message" adds to this idea. We interpret the meaning of what the artists have left behind, just as future people will interpret whatever it is we leave, and they will be able to make meaning from the remnants of our life as we attempt to draw meaning from others.

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"Hands" by Robinson Jeffers primarily offers visual imagery as the prominent literary device, such as 'brown shy quiet people." Nonetheless, Jeffers does employ the trope of figurative speech, which is speech that is not meant to be taken literally but that twists the literal meaning to produce a meaning that exceeds the individual words, e.g., he's the top brass. Some figures of speech Jeffers employs are simile, metaphor and personification.

Simile is present in "Signs-manual are now like a sealed message." Simile compares two unlike things through the associating words like, as, or as though. In this case, "Signs-manual" is associated with the term it's compared with ("sealed message") through the use of like.

Metaphor is present in "A multitude of hands in the twilight, a cloud of men’s palms." Metaphor compares two unlike things but does so, in contrast to simile, without using the associating words like, as, or as though. In this case, "hands in the twilight" is compared to "a cloud of men's palms," with no associating word to link them in the comparison.

Personification is present in "Saying: “Look: we also were human; we had hands, not paws" and in "In the beautiful country; enjoy her a season, her beauty." In the first, the "Signs-manual" of the preceding line are presented as having spoken words. This is personification, which is the assignment of human attributes or qualities to inanimate objects. In the second case, "the beautiful country" is personified through the assigned attributes of personhood ("her") and beauty ("her beauty").

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