Conceptual metaphors in “Black God” by My Dying Bride

This is the first post on my blog; I suggest doing something short and easy this time.

Let us look at the wonderful song “Black God” by British doom metal band My Dying Bride (from the “Turn loose the swans” LP, 1993) and try to see and explain the conceptual metaphors in it.

Here goes the first verse:


Thy every look and every grace

so charm whenever I view thee,

’til death overtake me in the chase

still will my hopes pursue thee…

Line 3 of this verse contains a composite metaphor, which is created through the interplay of three different ones: personification of death through the EVENTS ARE ACTIONS metaphor, then DYING IS LOOSING A CONTEST AGAINST AN ADVERSARY (extension of STAYING ALIVE IS A CONTEST) and DEATH IS AN ADVERSARY. First, the line is about the event of dying. If events are viewed as actions, then death is personified as an actor here. Second, life is presented here as a chase of the storyteller by personified death. Here, the structural schema of a race with two contestants comes into the spotlight.  Subsequently, when death overtakes him, it will take the storyteller’s life (STAYING ALIVE IS A CONTEST = DYING IS LOOSING A CONTEST AGAINST AN ADVERSARY). Third, why is death an adversary? It is obvious: death is an opponent in the race and, moreover, it takes from a human the most precious what any human being possesses, namely, life (“’til death overtake me…”). This last statement may be argued to be a metaphorical one as well (LIFE IS A PRECIOUS POSSESSION!), which is based on metonymy. “Me” (my body = container) stands metonymically for “my life” (the filling of the container). Thus, “’til death overtake me…” means “till death takes my life”. This one line of the song is a brilliant example of the complex interplay of conceptual metaphors and their realizations in language.

Line 4 has one more case of personification through the EVENTS ARE ACTIONS metaphor, namely, “… hopes pursue thee…”. Hope is an abstract notion, a feeling of desire for something, and cannot literally pursue anyone. However, if the event of hoping for something is conceptualized as an action on someone’s behalf, then hopes can be an actor, a personified pursuer. (<– Addition to this paragraph with alternative explanation is typed at the bottom of the article).

Here we proceed to verse 2:


Then when my tedious hours have past,

be this my last blessing given

low at thy feet to breathe my last

and die in sight of heaven.

The first line of verse 2 offers us an interesting metaphor (TIME PASSING IS MOTION à “…my tedious hours have past”), which has two conceptualizations in English: TIME PASSING IS MOTION OF AN OBJECT and TIME PASSING IS MOTION OVER A LANDSCAPE. Both cases are conceptualized in terms of space (entities and locations + motion). Here, the TIME PASSING IS MOTION OF AN OBJECT metaphor is employed: the author is the observer, fixed in the present time, who observes the time (of his life) passing him by.

“… my last blessing given” is arguably a case of the so-called “conduit” metaphor, first explained by linguist Michael Reddy (1979). Simply put, Reddy argued that words are containers, which contain the meaning inside and carry it from a person to person. Thus, communication is the process of “packing” the meanings into containers and sending them across for another person to “unpack” it. In this way, language is seen as a conduit, which transfers information between people. Here, the author conveys the content of his message, “packing” the blessing to his beloved one into a “word-container” and “gives” it to her.

Here we come to the end of the song. The last case to pay attention to is the line with “… to breathe my last” words. I claim this to be an instance of metonymy. Unlike conceptual metaphors, metonymies are the mappings of concepts within one domain. The process of breathing is a part of the domain of life. Actually, breathing is almost synonymous to living for us, because the life of any living creature is impossible without it. Thus, to breathe my last is to live my last (e.g. second, minute, hour etc.): BREATHING FOR LIVING.

Hope you enjoyed!

N.B. Dec 23, 2014 – Addition to the original post.

I thought a bit more about the line “still will my hopes pursue thee…” on my way to work today and I concluded that this might not be the case of personification (of hopes). Personification works through the EVENTS ARE ACTIONS metaphor with the events or states, which are not dependable on a human (e.g. death, sunrise, clouds, time …). In our case, though, hopes are the ability of a person to desire something, i.e. a mental state of a human. Speaking about the physical or emotional states of a human, Lakoff and Johnson distinguished the metaphor PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL STATES ARE ENTITIES WITHIN A PERSON (1980). Take a look at a couple of the examples below, chosen from “Metaphors we live by” (1980):

His depression returned.

His fears keep coming back.

I would be tempted to say that these are also cases of personification. They are not, however.

Similarly, I believe, the line about the hopes may also be the metaphor, built on the analogy to the one above: MENTAL STATES ARE ENTITIES WITHIN A PERSON (e.g. Hope has left me. I still have a glimmer of hope.).

If you have any thoughts, just type a comment below.



About Andriy Karamazov

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