Truth comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be packaged in real life events, considered facts. It can be packaged in interpretations of events, considered fiction. Regardless of packaging, truth is, truth is, truth.
A symbol’s truth, therefore, can enrich the significance of that which it represents. Today’s Christianity (at least in America) requires belief in scriptural texts as fundamental fact, demanding those texts be read as accurate historical documents and moral dictates. Most American churches reject the notion that The Bible could be read as a literary text, complete with figurative language–allegory, extended metaphors, and the like. For some reason, proponents of The Bible as historical text feel that critical analysis would somehow dilute the message of Christ. I beg to differ. I assert that the critical analysis of scripture enriches the gospel, and I intend to demonstrate how figurative language deepens meaning.
This is the first of three posts intended to illustrate the impact of figurative language on linguistic meaning. I will begin with an analysis of “It Will Come Back,” a song written and performed by Andrew Hozier-Byrne.
“You know better, babe, you know better, babe / Than to look at it, look at it like that / You know better, babe, you know better, babe / Than to talk to it, talk to it like that / Don’t give it a hand, offer it a soul / Honey, make this easy / Leave it to the land, this is what it knows / Honey, that’s how it sleeps…”Hozier, “It Will Come Back”
On the surface, it seems like the lyricist is giving his audience common sense advice: Don’t feed stray animals because if you do, they will keep coming back, and you won’t be able to get rid of them. It is in your and the stray’s best interests that you refuse indulgence. Let’s look at the next few lines of the song.
“You know better babe, you know better, babe / Than to smile at me, smile at me like that / You know better, babe, you know better, babe / Than to hold me just, hold me just like that…Don’t let me in with no intention to keep me / Jesus Christ, don’t be kind to me / Honey, don’t feed me, I will come back.”Hozier, “It Will Come Back”
This song seamlessly juxtaposes the symbol to its symbolized counterpart. The story of the stray–the advice to the woman–serves a purpose beyond that of self-improvement. The story of the stray is employed to convey the emotions of the lyricist. It is only through its story that the listener can fully comprehend the plight of the songwriter. The wild animal symbolizes the helplessness of the man when his lover shows him kindness; without the analogy, the truth of the lover’s conflict would not be accessible to his audience.
In all honesty, I would venture to say that most listeners have no problem identifying the figurative language and its purpose in this song. After all, who would really write a song about the dangers of feeding stray animals?! Hozier fans, the world over, likely agree that the import of the song is conveyed through the analogous relationship between the hound and the lover.
If we can agree that artists and empaths employ analogies and metaphors to communicate otherwise inaccessible insight and emotion, then why can’t we agree that authors of religious texts would do the same? My next post will explore how and why I, as a writer, have chosen fiction as a vehicle to carry the truth of my personal trauma.