“Bring me the sunset in a cup.” Emily Dickinson
“Are not flowers the stars of the earth?” Clara Lucas Balfour
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust
“Sunset in a cup” and “flowers the stars of the earth” — what lovely and delightfully fresh images these are! How they quicken and expand our own encounter wit h the world! We are embarked, as writers, on a “voyage of discovery” and one of our most joyful tasks is to help our readers see the world afresh – with “new eyes.”
Just think of the last time you read an author who amazed and enriched you by using unusual and arresting images in a story or novel. Wasn’t it inspiring?” For me, re-reading Virginia Woolf’s lovely and haunting To the Lighthouse was just an experience. It plunged me into a landscape of lush, lyrical images that was breathtaking in its inventiveness. Consider this brief passage about how her daughters think of their mother, Mrs. Ramsey:
“… and made them, as they sat at the table beneath their mother’s eyes, honour her strange severity, her extreme courtesy, like a queen’s raising from the mud a beggar’s foot and washing it…”
What an unlikely yet apt image – a queen washing a beggar’s foot! How surprising it is to suddenly come upon it on a page and envision it.
How can we bring this kind of freshness to our own work? One simple yet fruitful approach is to give ourselves more opportunities to experience the world:
We can take rambles around our neighborhood and make it a point to find three or four lovely or unusual things each time we go out.
When we see something that surprises or intrigues us, we can challenge ourselves to come up with an exciting, even extravagant, way to capture it in words.
We can read the prose of lyrical writers like Woolf or Proust or Flaubert or world-builders like Cervantes and Dickens, and jot down in a journal the images that really draw us in.
We can dip into classic children’s novels like The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables and see how their gifted authors convey beauty and wonder to young, unjaded readers.
Language is the tool we have to “make a joyful noise” – let’s do it boldly! Let’s find “sunset” in our cups and be real voyagers who see the world with new eyes. If you have any more ideas for enriching our imagery as writers, I’d love to hear them as we all write on!
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