What is the poet's view of language and metaphor in the poem "You Begin" by Margaret Atwood?

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Michael Otis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this well-known poem, Canadian poet Margaret Atwood contemplates the development of language and how metaphor helps human beings deal with increasingly abstract concepts. The critical lines from the poem follow:

The word hand floats above your hand
like a small cloud over a lake.
The word hand anchors
your hand to this table,
your hand is a warm stone
I hold between two words.

Here is the core of her semiotic argument. When explaining the dynamic relationship of signified - the hand itself - and the signifier - the word hand  - the speaker first resorts to simile (the poor man's metaphor). Thus, "the word hand floats...like a small cloud" - as if to say, like an insignificant, passing thing. However, in the next line, the poet invokes the almost magical power of metaphor to create our understanding of reality. No longer is the word hand floating, it is anchoring the thing itself to its sign, though the reader perceives that the two are tethered together - they are not one and the same thing. But in the last two lines, language performs its semiotic magic act: In a wondrous exchange of meaning, the physical hand becomes a metaphor - "a warm stone" - while simultaneously retaining its status as 'word'. Thus signifier and signified, while remaining as they have been, become one, and language is born.