CriticaLink | Aristotle: Poetics | Guide to Book XXII

Successful style must be clear but not commonplace, Aristotle argues. As always, he stresses balance: style must use elements of metaphor and the occasional unusual word, or it will never achieve the effects the poet desires. Too much metaphorical or unfamiliar language, however, will only serve to confuse the audience.

Aristotle provides a number of examples of the use of figures of speech or tropes, many of which depend on plays on words in the original Greek. His conclusion, though, is worth our attention, because he argues that the greatest talent a poet can possess is a command of the use of metaphor. This ability requires "an eye for resemblances" (62). Most of us recognize our own use of metaphorical language when we try to express ourselves; even the most common expressions make use of tropes. When we are sick or tired, for example, we might say "I feel like death warmed over." We turn to metaphors, too, when we attempt to explain or understand something, as when we describe the processor in our computer as being like a brain.