Lets Talk About The Use Of The Word Of Within Poetry


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  1. #1
    Member Jp's Avatar
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    Lets Talk About The Use Of The Word Of Within Poetry

    Since when has the word of became so hated among writers of verse? Where is the literary source that has proclaimed this word to be taboo located at? Where might I find such information, because just a cursory glimpse at the history of English verse will prove it is certainly not there.

    Let us take for example W.H. Auden’s Poem, In Memory of William Butler Yeats. It has 85 uses of the word ‘of,’ and range the gamut from directly relating one thing to another to what would be in the hands of modern critics ‘better rewritten as a direct metaphor.’

    Line 1. He disappeared in the dead of winter

    Could this be rewritten to be better, (moreover should it be,) lets try:

    He disappeared in the deadly winter, although equally valid this does not mean the same thing as the original.
    Line 4. The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day

    The above line is what I would call a conversational of, one that cannot be avoided without saying that all of’s should be avoided, and thus erasing huge swaths of poetry from Shakespeare’s to Yeats to Frost and many more. In fact I out right refuse the notion that this use of of(lines 4, 6, 11, etc) has anything wrong with it. We have control F on our keyboards and Shakespeare’s sonnets are informative.

    What I am interested in further understanding is the specifics of what, when, where, and why there is such a thing as a bad use of “of.” I would agree that there are some uses that do not work or maybe should make some cringe but I am certain that of is a word that has it’s place within English verse, in my brief search I would venture that 20-30 percent of all lines in English verse prior to 1970 contain the word.

    Perhaps something like this is happening to modern verse

    Flower perfect pearl blue
    the two were sure It’s colors
    had never before bloomed

    A desire to shorten everything to its smallest most descriptive unit. I think this removes the speaker and makes us write with words rather than because of them. Now, the poem above is worth while and that style is fine but W.H. Auden could never have, would never have written In memory of W.B. Yeats that way.

    Please lets get to the bottom of what exactly a bad use is and decide if it could have been rewritten with an of that made it acceptable or if the of was totally unacceptable.
    Last edited by Jp; June 30th, 2020 at 01:35 AM.
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  2. #2
    Ron Peat and I have often been referred to as "The Of Police". So it's only appropriate that one of us reply here. Ron is more articulate about this issue than I, so I will repost his comment below that came up in a Metaphor 3 discussion a couple of months ago.

    Keep in mind that no one is saying the word "of" should never be used in poetry. It is'nt a rule. There are no rules in poetry. And of course, thousands of examples can be found in great poems. However, the point is that the word is grossly over-used to the point where (notice, I could have used of but used another word) it becomes lazy poetry. It often substitutes for an image or concept which could be greatly expanded by choosing a more appropriate word, image, or sentence structure. Keep in mind tha of generally means belongs to or derives from and there are many strategies to explore within that concept. Also keep in mind that of is often an unnecessary proposition plunked inside a strong metaphor which effectively weakens the metaphor. For instance: a man of courage is a courageous man. The important thing in this phrase is the man, not the courage. Inserting of between the two takes the emphasis away from the man and puts it on courage.

    A wave of silence, is a silent wave. If you think about it, the latter is more direct and a stronger image. To say 'wave of silence' waters down the metaphor.

    Of becomes a crutch, a contrivance, a way to sound lofty or simply a way to avoid more figurative language.

    Below is a passage by RH Peat:



    My objection isn't the word "of" at all; it is the use of the word as a device between the two sides of a metaphor, or figurative usage: that would be the tenor as the term for the principal subject and vehicle for the term for the secondary subject of the metaphor, sometimes the tenor is implied rather than expressed. Example "that cur is a disgrace to the party." Implied — "Man" as the "cur". that's actually a bit of metonymy. Metonymy: (the substitution of the name of an attribute or adjunct for that of the thing meant, for example: suit for business executive, or the track for horse racing.)

    "Of"! Has its ridiculous presentation after you have seen a few hundred by beginners that want to chain them together one after another. More Specific Information about the "of" metaphor below with real options when it comes to changing the metaphorical construction. Do realize that many times when "of" is used it means "from" or "about" which offers the reader far more to understand when it comes to the meaning in the depth of the complete poem.

    How do we get rid of the thing that is offensive when the (of-the-of) springs up. A good question. First let me say this -- there is nothing wrong with using the word (of) in a poem. That is not what I am saying here. But when half the poem and much of the poem's metaphorical devices are made from the (of) situation within many of the lines, you need to add some more exciting tricks to your bag of possibilities; which means become more creative. OK Cowboy; if you see what I mean put your holster on and draw your gun. So what do we do with the (of)--how do we get rid of its ugly bandido stinking watch's face. Lock it up partner. There are a number gathered here as — simple ways, listed below.

    1. there are many other prepositions, that (of) is generally used for. Why not use the more explicit prepositions. For a simple starter, things like -- with, at, in, within, into, onto, without, inside, outside, upon, on, over, under, around, up, down, sideways, etc--there are a lot of prepositions out there. Let us find one that will give the line more depth of meaning, or be more explicit in its meaning.

    2. Many times a verb can be used. This is the strongest; if you ask me. Good poetry always has active verbs. You have to change the (of) into a (verb) with your overall poem in mind. Sometimes these verbs can add a real depth to your poem's action. Good action words will make a poem exciting. But you can just make the basic metaphor or simile by just putting "Like" or "is" between the two nouns in the metaphor. It may be simple but is far better than the preposition because it is active.

    3. Sometimes a reversal before the preposition in the line will take care of the (of). [This is different than a verb reversal by the way which I dislike to no end, which is archaic and should not be used in modern poetry except under special circumstances; or by the use of an adjective.

    4. the possessive ('s) or apostrophe ('s). Causing personification in the metaphor at times.
    (the genitive case)

    5. Simply remove the (of), and replace it with punctuation-- a comma, a semicolon, or a colon — as a starter.

    6. Making the two words into a compound word: “sky of flames” can become “sky-flames.” compounding the image of the two nouns as figurative.

    7. At times you can use one side of the metaphor to modify the other side as well So the tenor or the vehicle can be made into a modifier of the other by reversing them or making a gerund out of the other by adding "ing." It is far stronger than filling up the lines with weak "of" metaphors.

    8. Write the tenor and vehicle on separate lines in parallel construction with contrasting verbs and create an antithesis that has some solid punch to it inside the poem's deeper thought. It's another figurative device that doesn't need the word "of"; as part as the device's construction.

    I am not telling you not to use the word (of) within any poem. I just want you to know what your options are and how to overcome it. So you have a wider choice of things to do when I say "watch the (of-the-of) metaphors lining up back to back. Besides think about it for a minute and think how much more interesting and creative your poem would be to read; if many of these other devices were used instead of the word (of) within your lines. My point — do not become reliant upon the word (of); always question yourself when you do use it; and know the reason why you are using it.

    OK? Make it have a special case to use it. In metric verses it can be over used to become a crutch for the unaccented syllable. Don't fall into the "of" traps. My absurd feelings are that it takes more brains to string a yoyo than to write an "of" metaphor. That's my comical look at the word when used as a figurative device for deeper thought in the poem, for the most part; and do realize, I do use the word now and then.

    a poet friend
    RH Peat
    Last edited by TL Murphy; June 30th, 2020 at 10:15 PM.

  3. #3
    Surely if you are writing poetry you think about all the words? Why should 'of' be any different? 'Sky flames' is not the same thing as 'Sky of flames', the first are simply flames in the sky, the rest could be blue with clouds, sky of flames implies the whole sky is filled with them. 'Recalling W B Yeats,? no, that is a different poem.
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  4. #4
    Member Jp's Avatar
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    Thanks for replying TL Murphy,


    Lets get down to it then. I follow that it is not a rule, but when presented to folk on the board it is being treated as such. Since we agree that there is much examples of what is a good use of the word, my purpose is to figure out what exactly constitutes a bad usage.


    First we are going to have to establish some sort of terminology. My first thought is to define what clearly between the three of us is seen as an acceptable usage (these must be thought of as absolutes for the purpose of argumentation, but could be broken with skill) The usage I am talking about is, if one needed to write a line that was like:


    The two of us
    The two of them


    i.e. any use of the word that modifies an object


    The cup of tea
    A crutch made of a stone




    These examples more typically come up in poems where the author is directly speaking to the reader, but may have valid usage in other formats as well. So modifying of’s are okay. RH seems to be going there without articulating it. Maybe every line containing these would still not be good, but one could build the sound on the of.. . and that would perhaps be interesting.


    Now on to your specific example


    A wave of silence washed over the crowd
    A silent wave washed over the crowd
    The crowd was covered by a silent wave


    I would say the three examples above could mean very different things, but all the example lines seem fine. Lets focus on line one from above.


    The brain was a wave of silence and shock
    My brain felt a wave of silence and shock
    A wave of silence became my brains lot


    The last of the three examples to me is the one that stands out, and that to me is because even though a metaphor is always formed some structures make the metaphor have more weight


    A wave of silence became my brains lot
    A silent wave became my brains lot


    But now this has ledme to a realization in the example where the modifying of phrase comes before the object even the above rewrite shows the poor nature of the line, and leaving perhaps a whole rewrite of the line in order.


    The silence within my brain was a wave




    Back to W.H on Yeat’s death


    But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
    An afternoon of nurses and rumours; // This is the old cup of tea modifier
    The provinces of his body revolted, // This is like the cup of tea but is also metaphor, what is different here than other examples we have looked at is that this metaphor ‘provinces of his body’ modifies nothing else other than the cup of tea itself. Since the cup of tea is intact does the line sound more pleasing than a line like: the provinces of his body were on fire or something similar?
    Silence invaded the suburbs,
    The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers. // Here too we have that same cup of tea intact metaphor








    Remember that I am working this out myself, but I will take a shot at an explanation.


    Whenever of is used within a line of poetry where directly being used without metaphor the result is a conversational tone that has nothing to do with the saying avoid of’s, however, when of is used within a line of poetry where it is part of a metaphor and that metaphor is also modifying or being modified by something else the result is less than satisfactory.


    Best usages as follows in descending order


    As W.H. examples of


    A tea cup metaphor


    As our examples of


    Object modified by of metaphor


    Then worst usage


    of metaphor modifying of, etc.


    I believe in the last usage the more figurative the metaphor the worse the outcome of even the worst way to use of.


    If you have thoughts or clearer examples and are interested please list them as I a sure there is some logic to why we see so many good of metaphors within English verse and yet we agree that there are clearly horrible ones also.


    I might have actually stumbled upon it, as I was thinking this through and writing this simultaneously. So I ask you to some what consider this post a stream of thought, and yet take note of what I have called a tea cup metaphor as I think it is actually the one way of metaphors have actually made it into so many places and have become loved works. Gotta love thought experiments.



    A poem written on building the sound of "of."

    https://www.writingforums.com/entrie...ity-s-Homeless
    Last edited by Jp; July 3rd, 2020 at 11:14 PM.
    What instruments we have agree
    The day of his death was a dark cold day. - W.H. Auden

    Has the amimus mundi gone empty,
    or did I wake at 4:48? - J.P.V.

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  5. #5
    Member Jp's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Olly Buckle View Post
    Surely if you are writing poetry you think about all the words? Why should 'of' be any different? 'Sky flames' is not the same thing as 'Sky of flames', the first are simply flames in the sky, the rest could be blue with clouds, sky of flames implies the whole sky is filled with them. 'Recalling W B Yeats,? no, that is a different poem.
    Literally this my purpose in posting this discussion Olly Bucket.
    What instruments we have agree
    The day of his death was a dark cold day. - W.H. Auden

    Has the amimus mundi gone empty,
    or did I wake at 4:48? - J.P.V.

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