Never Fully Dressed with Just a Simile
By Canaan Morse, published
Back in August, Eric mentioned in one of his threads (I think it was Words) that he found similes in Chinese prose to be palpably awkward—that every time he came to a 就像 or a 跟什么什么似的 it gave him the elbow. At the time, I agreed with him, although now I’m not quite sure why. Such may be the case within the anti-之乎者也 literature of the past twenty years, but going farther back into the era when all those metaphoric particles from classical were still in common use—犹、如、仿佛 and the rest of them—uncovers a kind of flexibility in setting up similes which quite unexpectedly reveals the poverty of English in this regard.
Take this passage:
Enough figuration in there to choke a 麒麟. Well, sentimental or not, my point is that I did two versions of that little passage and could not manage to limit myself to one or two iterations of “like” or “as,” those being the simplest indicators we have for the start of a simile (not everything there fits the Chinese definition of a 明喻, but when he says 怀疑是… it’s hard to avoid an “almost as if”). Other more roundabout versions (the way a (something) does…, etc.) are too wordy.
The cobalt sky above the tall parasol tree articulates its broad leaves in thick shadow, while the new moon floats like a golden boat moored among hushing branches. A crushed scattering of stars, which might be white flowers sifted through the fingers of an angel, then inlaid tight as gemstones into the night sky. Yet still they glitter, radiating lucent light, as their faint perfume drifts down from icy heaven like fine particles of snow.
Whoah. Can't seem to get around some of the awkwardness in there. Better ideas?