Is there any figurative language in "The Dry Salvages" from Four Quartets by TS Eliot

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There are many types of figurative language, and several are used in T. S. Eliot’s “The Dry Salvages.”

Because this is a lengthy poem, I will focus on a few types of figurative language and provide you with an example of each.

Oxymoron is defined as a phrase that includes two opposites that, together, create a new meaning. Two examples of this in Eliot’s poem come in the first part of Section II: “soundless wailing” and “unprayable prayer.” Both examples are used to indicate the contradictory nature of life that Eliot is trying to convey.

Allusion is defined as a reference to something famous or well-known that an author uses to emphasize a commonality or point. In the first line of Section III, Eliot uses an allusion to a Hindu deity when he states, “I sometimes wonder if that is what Krishna meant.” This allusion is meant to invoke a story of Krishna from the Mahabarata, a famous Hindu epic, in order to illustrate the speaker’s advice to the voyagers he addresses.

Paradox is defined as a statement that is illogical or impossible in order to emphasize a point. This is similar to an oxymoron, but extends beyond just a few words. An example of paradox from Section I is: “When time stops and time is never ending.” This statement is impossible, yet Eliot uses it to illustrate the futility of trying to understand the concept of time as it actually exists.

Many other types of figurative language exist within the poem, including alliteration and assonance, which give the poem its musical feel.

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Yes.  Certainly.

Keep in mind the definition of figurative language: description that relies on comparisons between two things that are not necessarily alike.  Figurative language comes in several forms:

  • similes: comparisons using the words "like" or "as"
  • metaphors: direct comparisons which can be short and to the point or extended over several lines
  • personification: a more specific metaphor that compares something inhuman with a person.

I encourage you to reread this poem keeping the above definitions in mind.  The entire poem uses images from "The Dry Salvages" an outcropping of rocks off the coast of Massachusetts.  In it, Eliot paints the beauty and majesty of the place and nature itself in his figurative language.  He especially focuses on water imagery to look into deeper questions of life, timelessness, eternity, immortality, and spirituality.

A few examples to get you started are:

I think that the river is a strong brown god (ln. 1): personification that extends over several lines.

The river is within us (ln. 15) metaphor

oppression of the silent fog (ln. 46) metaphor

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