Sometime before 900 A.D., the Chinese discovered that by stuffing saltpeter, sulfur and charcoal into hollow bamboo shoots and tossing them into fire, booming blossoms of light resulted. Over the centuries, fireworks have also become an artistic metaphor for a broad range of powerful emotions, including anger. They are an extended metaphor -- their images figuratively exploding line after line -- in Amy Lowell's 1915 poem "Fireworks."
Definition of Extended Metaphor
Metaphors compare disparate concrete objects and concepts. For example, a man and a firecracker are visible, touchable and dissimilarly concrete. But if the man is funny and makes others erupt in laughter, you might say that he "is a firecracker." Or, if you were trying to explain something invisible, such as the sensation of bursting with pride, you might compare it to something visible as in "I could light up the sky."
An extended metaphor, also known as a "conceit" in a literary work, sometimes becomes the theme of a written work. It repeats a comparison in many ways to reinforce the image and feelings it intends to convey. There are no limits on how long or short an extended metaphor must be. The images of fireworks are constant throughout Lowell's poem.
Fireworks as Metaphor
In addition to poetry, fireworks appear as a metaphor in the visual images and writing of many artworks, including movies, paintings and pop songs. Fireworks imagery is commonly used to express strong feelings such as childlike wonder, romantic love, patriotism, sexual attraction and a sense of danger. The documentary "Passfire," which concerns compulsive fascination with fireworks, is an extended metaphor for two concepts -- multiculturalism and passion for creating spectacle. In Katy Perry's pop song "Firework," the singer uses extended metaphor to compare an insecure person who is waiting to shine to a firework waiting to brighten the night sky. In contrast, Lowell's poem is a negative extended metaphor comparing fireworks to passionate animosity.
Explication of Poem's Fireworks
Lowell begins and ends her poem with the words "You hate me and I hate you." The first line might sound like a calm statement of fact to a reader. However, the poem's repetitive images of fireworks, flash like sparks and lead up to what feels like a grand explosion of anger and powerful dislike. The literary pyrotechnics begin in the second stanza, when the narrator says her heart has "burst apart" and is flaring and falling through the sky. The narrator likens the charged atmosphere between the two people to different shapes and colors of firework explosions that "shoot and tremble." The display of emotion is so obvious when they meet that the narrator says, "I shine in the windows and light up the trees."
Lowell and Imagism
Amy Lowell, who lived from 1874 to 1925, was a businesswoman before she became a poet and national poetry advocate in her 30s. She was born into a wealthy Boston family that was well-known in the arts as well as industry. Lowell became famous for her outspoken nature as well as for her poetry. Twentieth-century literary critic Van Wyck Brooks said she had "no still, small voice" and that wherever she went "fireworks rose in the air." Lowell was part of Ezra Pound's Imagist movement in poetry. The Imagists believed in improving the comprehensibility of poetry through the use of visual images -- a good description for the technique used in Lowell's "Fireworks."