The syntax of metaphors in English



I tried to translate a line of a Persian poem into English, it is almost like:

If you come to visit me, come slowly and softly

Lest the delicate porcelain of my loneliness cracks

Here, the poet (Sohrab Sepehri) equates loneliness with a delicate porcelain. Did my translation shows this metaphor? Especially, I mean the usage of of to relate the components of the metaphor.

Could it be:

  • my delicate loneliness porcelain
  • my delicate porcelain of loneliness

Moreover, as Persian is a free-word-order language, he has put the subject at the end of sentence, I thought of writing it as:

Lest it cracks, the delicate porcelain of my loneliness

Is it grammatical? does it have the same meaning?


Posted 2016-10-27T14:24:39.757

Reputation: 8 443

1You may say: .."my delicate porcelain loneliness cracks", using "porcelain" as an attributive noun. – None – 2016-10-27T14:32:48.783

I prefer the way you wrote it initially better than the suggestions of @AbsoluteBeginner. – Richard Hauer – 2016-10-27T14:46:34.093


I believe the infinitive of "crack" would be better than "cracks".

– MorganFR – 2016-10-27T14:54:42.510

"Lest delicate as procelaine my loneliness crack" might work too. Rather than comparing loneliness to a delicate porcelaine, it shows that loneliness is as delicate as porcelaine is in general. I'm not sure which one the author meant, but that's another option with a slightly different meaning. – MorganFR – 2016-10-27T15:13:52.997

Your first line is excellent. However, you may need to find a different metaphor for the second. Metaphor does not always translate well. Remember the old dictum - poetry is what gets lost in translation. – Mick – 2016-10-27T15:15:13.387

"Lest my porcelain loneliness cracks," perhaps. Once you have a literal translation, try discarding as many words as you can. – Mick – 2016-10-27T15:22:55.750

A good exercise is to turn couplets into haiku - 17 syllables - no more, no less. – Mick – 2016-10-27T15:26:03.793

The blank1 of my blank2 is the typical word order, as you have it. The cold hand of fear. The ragged edge of exhaustion. lest is old-fashioned, and it wants the subjunctive, crack. Lest it crack.

– Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2016-10-27T15:36:12.347

Lest it crack, the delicate porcelain of my loneliness where pronoun it anticipates its noun, porcelain, is grammatical, but it runs the risk of creating a jarring or confusing effect, since crack can be transitive, so that porcelain could be misunderstood as object, and the reader might wonder what it referred to, it being the cracker, not that which cracks. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2016-10-27T15:47:46.400

1I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's asking for advice about a potential new creative poetic coinage, not about learning established current use of English. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2016-10-27T15:49:47.090

4@FumbleFingers: The question asks about the word order of metaphors using of and about syntactic matters. Your trigger-finger is too itchy whenever the question contains anything literary. This question is not asking for literary interpretation but grammatical advice. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2016-10-27T15:51:47.570

@TRomano: If that were all OP was concerned about, he could have presented us with a pair such as *a fist of iron* vs *an iron first*. Face it, this is a request to help someone write poetry. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2016-10-27T15:55:54.643

@FumbleFingers I changed the title to better match my question. – Ahmad – 2016-10-27T15:56:11.737

@FumbleFingers: It is a question about how to write English. The genre is irrelevant, a herring of red. The core questions are about syntax. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2016-10-27T15:57:44.427

@TRomano: You won't shift your position, I know. But to my mind it could be okay to ask about *red herrings, iron fists,* etc., simply because these are idiomatically established usages, and in that context we can meaningfully say the *of* versions wouldn't be idiomatic. But in the realm of poetry, it's entirely a matter of opinion. As a Lit Studies graduate myself, I can't even see any solid grounds for preferring *porcelain loneliness* over *loneliness porcelain* as a creative poetic usage, let alone ruling on whether an *of* version might be "better" (or worse). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2016-10-27T16:05:46.647

@FumbleFingers: I am not unwilling to change my position. But you're imputing things to the question that simply are not there. The OP did not ask which version was preferred but about whether the variations were equally grammatical and bore the same meaning. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2016-10-27T16:11:47.610

@FumbleFingers I get your point, although my question is about the syntax, if we even ignore that, I wrote the poet (Sohrab Sepehri) equates loneliness with a delicate porcelain. Do you mean it still could be either porcelain loneliness and loneliness porcelain? – Ahmad – 2016-10-27T16:18:54.310

@TRomano, Ahmad: Speaking poetically, I'd say you could refer to some unpleasant experience that cracked your *eggshell confidence,* your *confidence eggshell,* or the *eggshell of your confidence*. But there's nothing grammatically wrong with *the confidence of your eggshell*, and so far as I can see there are no solid grounds for claiming that any of those variants mean anything different. Or that any of them are better or worse in the context of some particular poem (or translation thereof), but that's definitely an Off Topic question. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2016-10-27T16:31:17.180

@FumbleFingers It is still a side point! for example in my question I highlighted delicate porcelain. but I don't know the exact word order or an of version, which keeps this relation. for example my delicate loneliness porcelain may interrupt this relation. – Ahmad – 2016-10-27T16:41:09.867

@Ahmad: You probably know about the Royal Order of Adjectives, which could be used to "explain" why it's always a delicate porcelain cup, never a porcelain delicate cup. But that rule is far from consistent even in the context of things native speakers actually say - and it's virtually worthless in the context of creative poetic "neologisms".

– FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2016-10-27T16:57:51.443



1) Lest the delicate porcelain of my loneliness crack

This is the best of your suggestions, in my opinion. I think it is phrased quite nicely, and shows the metaphor clearly.

2) Lest my delicate loneliness porcelain crack

This one is confusing because of the order of loneliness and porcelain. As mentioned in a comment, switching the order makes it okay.

3) Lest my delicate porcelain loneliness crack

When you use attributive nouns, the first noun is the one describing the second. It makes more sense for "porcelain" to describe "loneliness," because that is the intent of the metaphor. In 2), in contrast, it sounds like "loneliness" is describing "porcelain" -- so it comes across like "lonely porcelain," which doesn't make much sense.

4) Lest it crack, the delicate porcelain of my loneliness

Although this would be understood, it feels clunky. It feels like you're going out of your way to move the words out of their natural positions. If you really want "crack" to come first, you could use the transitive version of "crack," but you'd need a subject -- something like,

5) Lest your approach crack the delicate porcelain of my loneliness

Unless you like 5), I think the choice is between 1) and 3). It depends on how you want the poem to flow. The stress pattern of "delicate porcelain loneliness" has a nice kind of sing-songy feel to it, while "the delicate porcelain of my loneliness" sounds a bit more like someone speaking.

*As a comment above noted, lest is used with infinitive verbs (technically the subjunctive mood), so it should be "crack" instead of "cracks" here. That said, when the verb is at the end of the phrase, it's far enough away from "lest" that speakers may not notice it's wrong -- I certainly didn't notice until we moved the verb towards the front, closer to "lest."


Posted 2016-10-27T14:24:39.757

Reputation: 1 719

I like "Lest my delicate porcelain loneliness crack", but it might be trying too hard. "Lest the delicate porcelain of my loneliness crack" is safe. – Andrew – 2016-10-27T16:27:48.480


Lest the delicate porcelain of my loneliness crack

Is elegant and clearly understood (Just note that crack does not end in s)

This other answer says a lot about grammar that I won't repeat, but let me answer the bit about using of:

Of is a preposition. of my loneliness is a prepositional phrase, and the entire phrase acts like an adjective to describe loneliness. This is not always required in English, since you can directly use porcelain as an attributive noun - also mentioned in the other answer.

I prefer

Lest my delicate porcelain loneliness crack

It's quite elegant, and in my opinion it equates the metaphor more effectively than using of


Posted 2016-10-27T14:24:39.757

Reputation: 151

No, of my loneliness acts as an adjective to describe porcelain', notloneliness`. A prepositional phrase generally follows that which it describes (In "the fourth [day] of July" the prepositional phrase "of July" describes a particular fourth, not to be confused with the fourth of June or the fourth hole of a golf course, etc.) and certainly doesn't modify its own object. – Monty Harder – 2016-10-27T19:11:51.973