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Because there is a profound difference between writing something to be read and writing something worth reading; and in that difference might beauty be found.

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

"Year of the Cat" by Al Stewart

from Year of the Cat (1976)

similes, and metaphoricity


corrected some formatting errors with the block quotes – Apr. 28, 2017


A few months ago I heard Al Stewart's "Year of the Cat" (1976) for the first time in a long, long while – heard it where I could stop and listen, not heard it as, say, background music during a shopping tour. It was one of my favorites, once upon a time: you have to like its tapping into noirish thematics (both lyrically and musically) and its preference for musical understatement; and there is a strangeness to it, an "I am unlike the rest," even for it being but good pop. But that is touching only on what strikes me about it, and is neither here nor there elsewise.

However, the opening stanzas of the song offer an excellent text for demonstrating and exploring the difference between simile and metaphor, a line of thought I opened a couple of posts ago in part VI of the Poetry Magazine series [link] with hopes of finding just such an opportunity (perhaps not the last).

So, here's a youtube of the song if you are unfamiliar or want to hear it again. (It is patient in its leading in, so the lyrics don't start until just after 1:00.)

And here are the opening stanzas.

On a morning from a Bogart movie
In a country where they turn back time
You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre
Contemplating a crime

She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running
Like a watercolor in the rain
Don't bother asking for explanations
She'll just tell you that she came
In the year of the cat

There are two similes in the stanzas. The first one ("like Peter Lorre") is straight forward, and offers simple example of what a simile does. The second ("like a watercolor") is part of a tangle of ideation that gives us the contrast necessary to see what a simile does not – and cannot – do by way of what a metaphor can do.

Some notes before continuing: