Image

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(This page forms part of a Course in Figures of Speech. You can find an introduction to it at Figures of Speech course. This page can stand on its own, as well. You may have accessed it from Figures of comparison, of which it is an extension; or from some particular example.)

Image is a word used in literary studies to mean something in the same area of activity as Figures of speech. It might even be said that imaginative comparison is the central activity in poetry. This is true even when the literal sense of the words is absurd. When Robert Burns wrote the song "My love is like a red red rose", he used a great and deeply moving comparison partly because of its simplicity. Yet its literal meaning is very strange indeed.

In literary criticism, or the study of literature, the term image is used to mean more or less what AWE calls 'figures of comparison'. This draws attention to the fact that the intention of using an image is to create a picture in the reader's mind - although an image may appeal to any one of the senses, sound, touch and so on as well as vision. When the poet Keats describes "the silver snarling trumpets" , he seems to make an image of the way the instrument sounds in 'snarling', as well as one of how it looks in 'silver'. The overall effect of a poet's use of images in general is known as imagery. The word image may also be helpful if you realise the connection with the verb 'to imagine' and the noun imagination.)

If you want to go on with AWE's course in Figures of Speech, continue to metaphor and simile.

In other fields of study - and indeed of ordinary life - the word image has many other meanings. It is used to describe pictures or statues, especially those that are used to bring objects of worship to the attention of members of various religions. m (These are sometimes said to have miraculous powers: a childless couple may for example pray to an image of a particular holy person to be blessed with a child.) In Physics, and particularly in the branch of Optics, an image is a technical term relating an appearance created by the uses of light, as in a mirror. In the world of advertising, media and celebrities, the image is akin to the general reputation of a celebrity ("his 'bad boy image'") or a brand ("the image that a particular brand of cereal might want to convey is one of health").