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Words endure the test of time

October 02, 2009|By LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

When William Shakespeare penned the words "All the world's a stage," he couldn't have known that it would become part of one of the most recognizable passages in literature.

This statement comparing the world to a stage begins a monologue in Shakespeare's "As You Like It," a play that was written around 1600.

What is it about the statement that endures the test of time?

It is framed in a context that speaks to the imagination. When two unlike things are compared as if they were the same, the reader is encouraged to stop and think about what is being said.

If Shakespeare had written "People everywhere are attempting to act the way they think others want them to act," it just wouldn't have had the same impact.

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Yes, metaphoric language sounds pretty, but its value goes beyond ornamental. The feelings, the emotions, the intent of a writer are revealed with precision and richness if the words are framed in a thought-provoking manner.

This mode of communication is a rarity in modern culture. We want to cut to the chase. If it's not to the point, forget it. Blunt is best.

I don't know about you, but I miss subtleties. Do we have to control each others' minds to the extent that we can't each be allowed to think on our own?

The best writers present information and allow readers to come to their own conclusions.

In my 10th-grade English class, we've been examining some of these concepts in our imaginative-comparison unit.

We first looked at similes, which are comparisons using the words "like" or "as." Similes tend to be overused and cliched. A common example is "as pretty as a picture."

Then we looked at metaphors, which are comparisons that do not use "like" or "as." Like many other English teachers before me, I used Shakespeare's "All the world's a stage" as an example of a metaphor.

Because the wind has been swift this week, it provided some fitting examples for the next form of comparison that we discussed - personification.

When using personification, writers give human characteristics to objects, ideas, abstractions or animals.

As I was explaining this concept, I pointed out the window and encouraged the students to watch the wind's path along the grass and through the leaves on the tree outside our room.

If I were to describe the scene, I could write something such as "The wind was blowing through the leaves."

That sounds so dull and basic, and it provides little information on what the scene was actually like.

Yet if I write "The leaves danced in the wind," the reader has a much clearer mental picture of the day. Giving leaves the ability to dance creates a light-hearted mood. It tells the reader that the wind wasn't too overpowering. It also gives a reader the sense that the writer was calm while observing and writing about the scene.

Hopefully my students will consider some of the things we discussed in class. We'll see. Their next writing assignment is a personification paragraph.

I'd like to see their fingers fly through that.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at lisap@herald-mail.com.

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