The Use Of Figurative Language Techniques In The Poem “To You” By Kenneth Koch

In the poem “To You”, Kenneth Koch presents a love story in which the speaker has a deep affection for a special person. Throughout the poem, Koch guides the reader through unusually structured lines with missing punctuation which hint toward the idea of an obsessive lover. Within these lines, Koch employs a myriad of figurative language techniques such as similes, metaphors, and hyperboles to emphasize the speaker’s love for his beloved one. Altogether, the figurative language and missing punctuation lead the reader towards unfolding Koch’s main message: the idea that dedicated love evokes euphoric feelings.

The three most prominent examples of similes in “To You” occur at the beginning, middle, and near the end of the poem. The first instance of a simile occurs when the speaker says, “I love you as a sheriff searches for a walnut / That will solve a murder case unsolved for years”. This exemplifies how the speaker would go to great lengths for his love just as a sheriff would similarly go to great lengths to solve a murder case. The fact that the speaker is so persistent, just like a sheriff, implies that he would do anything for love.

The next simile in the poem is when the speaker says, “I love you as a / Kid searches for a goat”. The scene of a kid searching for a goat has an obsessive aspect to it. This in a sense suggests that the speaker in the poem is obsessed about his love just as the kid is obsessed about a goat.

The third major simile in the poem occurs near the end when the speaker states “I love you as the sunlight leads the prow / Of a ship which sails”. This portrays how love leads the speaker through his life just like how the sun leads a ship through the waters. Also, because the ship relies on the sun as its sense of direction, this implies that there is a sense of trust in the speaker’s love. Moreover, the combination of words such as ship and sunlight establishes a peaceful, jovial tone, hinting that the speaker’s love kindles blissful feelings inside him.

In addition to similes, Koch utilizes specific metaphors throughout the poem to emphasize the immensity of the speaker’s love. For instance, in the middle of the poem, the speaker says, “I am crazier than shirttails / In the wind, when you’re near”. This suggests that just as shirttails waver crazily in the wind, the speaker is crazily in love when near his dearest one. In a sense, the speaker’s obsession shows that love is of great importance to him which is why he is so dedicated.

The second instance of a metaphor in the poem is when the speaker states “The place where I again think of you, a new / Harmony of thoughts!”. This metaphor compares the place the speaker thinks of his special person to a harmony of thoughts, suggesting that the speaker’s beloved one engenders joy for the speaker. Throughout the poem, Koch also incorporates hyperboles as a means of illustrating the positive feelings that love stimulates. After relating a murder case to a scenario of deep affection, Koch includes the line “For this we live a thousand years”. This statement, which serves as a hyperbole as it is impossible for a human to live a thousand years, connotes that people feel like living forever because of the elation they experience when they have immense affection for someone.

Another hyperbole employed by Koch is when the speaker’s love causes him to think he is “bicycling across an Africa of green and white fields”. Describing how large the land area the speaker thinks he is bicycling through using the country Africa is a clear example of exaggeration which displays how the speaker feels as though his love takes him through an endless journey of greenery and delightful emotions.

When looking at the poem’s lines, it is evident that there is missing and sometimes incorrect punctuation where the reader would perceive to contain commas or periods. An example of incorrect punctuation would be when the speaker states “we live because we love, we are not / Inside a bottle”. Clearly, two independent clauses cannot be separated solely using a comma and no coordinating conjunction.

Another instance of incorrect punctuation in the poem would be when the speaker says, “I think I am bicycling… / Always, to be near you, even in my heart / When I’m awake, which swims…”. It is clear that commas shouldn’t be placed after every phrase consisting of two or three words. In such cases of incorrect or missing punctuation, the sentences become run-ons. In a sense, Koch intentionally creating run-on sentences throughout his poem parallels the speaker’s persistence and determination for his love. It’s almost as if the speaker is so obsessively non-stop in love that words come right out of his mouth to describe the joy he feels, which would explain the run-ons.

Ultimately, by utilizing specific comparisons, meaningful exaggerations, and by deliberately creating run-on sentences, Kenneth Koch tells his readers that committed and affectionate love yields blissful emotions.

03 December 2019
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