Conceptual metaphors in “Declaration Day” by Iced Earth

Hello, dear reader! What would you say to a rocking lesson in the US history? The July post deals with the events, happened around July 4th, 1776 in Philadelphia, USA. If you are into power metal, you have probably already guessed what this is all about. In this article we will take a look at the song “Declaration day” by the American band Iced Earth (taken from the “The Glorious Burden” LP, 2004). I promise this will be an easy read, as most of the metaphors in this piece are easy to identify and explain (most, but not all). Let’s go:

  1. A desperate situation
  2. Forced to retaliation
  3. The task ahead a burden
  4. Men will suffer, that’s for certain
  5. We’ll charge into the fire
  6. The cause, we must inspire
  7. We raise our fists to tyranny
  8. A high price, freedom is not free
  1. The odds are stacked against us
  2. But with our resolve relentless
  3. And arrogance their weakness
  4. Our cause is just, we won’t be beaten
  5. Upon this declaration
  6. Will come a brand new nation
  7. Where men are seen as equal
  8. Governed by and for the people
  1. So we make our stand and pray
  2. On this declaration day
  3. For independence I will fight
  4. With liberty I will defy
  5. So we make our stand and pray
  6. on this declaration day
  7. Give me liberty or give me death
  8. I’ll fight till my last breath
  1. With virtue as our beacon
  2. Our cause is charged as treason
  3. Battle worn and starving
  4. Through the hell of war we’ll keep marching
  5. The birth of our new nation
  6. An act of desperation
  7. We’ll force King George down to his knees
  8. Capitulation

Great piece of patriotic poetry, isn’t it? I even suggest you listen to the song before you proceed with reading. Good metal. Highly recommended.

It was 1776

Above I have intentionally split the text in four chunks I will focus on. Let’s cut the first one open.

  1. A desperate situation
  2. Forced to retaliation
  3. The task ahead a burden
  4. Men will suffer, that’s for certain
  5. We’ll charge into the fire
  6. The cause, we must inspire
  7. We raise our fists to tyranny
  8. A high price, freedom is not free

The passage is rather rich in figurative language, I must admit. There are both obvious, surface metaphors and the deep-level ones here.

The task ahead a burden” in line 3 refers to the war, which will cause much suffering to people (line 4). Hence, WAR IS A BURDEN. This is a straightforward case. Nevertheless, it still involves some mental work. War itself (warfare) is not a burden you carry. It is the state of war in general with all its implications that causes mental and physical suffering. Thus, a state of involvement into war is conceptualized as a burden (objectification), carried by the “men” in line 4.

It is worth to point out that this “burden” is not being carried right at the moment of speaking, but lies “ahead” – in future. Another metaphor for us! Even two, I would say. Conceptualizing future as being in front of us is based on the TIME ORIENTATION metaphor (we are in the present; past is behind us). To be more precise, on its Western culture variation (yes, there are cultures which see the future as lying behind and the past – in front of us). With the task/war being ahead and us moving towards it (line 5 below), another metaphor enters the stage: TIME PASSING IS MOVING ACROSS THE LANDSCAPE (or MOVING OBSERVER in some sources). For the folks, who are not acquainted with the conceptual metaphor theory, I explain the case. There are two ways (metaphors) we, people, think about passing of time. One is TIME PASSING IS THE MOVING OBJECT. This metaphor conceptualizes time as something that moves towards us from the future, while we are static. Think about the example “WOA 2015 is approaching!” or “Autumn comes soon”. Another way to think and reason about time is when it is a static landscape people are moving across, with points in time being landmarks on this landscape (this explains, by the way, why events happen at, in and on time!). Think about the following: We are getting closer and closer to WOA 2015! WOA officially runs three days etc.

So, in our case here, the war is in the future – ahead, with its beginning at a certain point on the time path – and the men are moving towards it.

Line 5 “We’ll charge into the fire” contains the FIRE FOR WAR metonymy; however, I must admit I am a bit puzzled as to defining what kind of metonymy this is. I would go for cause-effect one. There is also a metaphor, hidden here. The preposition “into” evokes a containment image schema. Knowing that “fire” stands for “war”, and the latter is a state (of war), then the metaphor behind reasoning this way is the ontological STATES ARE CONTAINERS metaphor. It helps us to reason about the abstract situations as if about the containers, we may find ourselves in (e.g. I am in love; I am going out of depression etc.).

Yet another metaphor, on which the entire utterance in line 5 is projected, is the TIME metaphor (MOVING OBSERVER), mentioned above.

Line 7 “We raised our fists to tyranny” is arguably the metonymy RAISING THE FISTS AS FIGHTING. Note that it is fighting in general, with weapons and on any scale. I suppose it is possible to use it in this sense because the expression has become an idiom for “having a fight” in the course of history.

In line 8 – “A high price, freedom is not free” – freedom is objectified. It gives us a chance to think about it as of physical object, e.g. I grant you freedom; I lost my freedom; I obtained freedom etc. In this context, the metaphor takes the following shape: FREEDOM IS AN EXPENSIVE COMMODITY.

The last thing in this passage I would like to turn your attention to is lines 1-2 “A desperate situation, Forced to retaliation”. At first, I thought these were the entailments of the MORAL ACCOUNTING metaphor, but I changed my mind later. If you have any thoughts on that, let me know.

The birth

Here is the second passage:

  1. The odds are stacked against us
  2. But with our resolve relentless
  3. And arrogance their weakness
  4. Our cause is just, we won’t be beaten
  5. Upon this declaration
  6. Will come a brand new nation
  7. Where men are seen as equal
  8. Governed by and for the people

Line 9 “The odds are stacked against us” is apparently constructed on the WAR IS GAMBLING metaphor, with the war conceptualized as a game and the parties in the conflict – as the gamblers with different chances of winning.

Our cause is just…” in line 12 is the realization of the MORALITY IS FAIRNESS metaphor. As Lakoff indicates in “The Political Mind” (2008: 97), “[y]ou are better off if you are treated fairly than if you are not”, providing the following examples: an unfair labor practice, a fair trade etc. Very briefly, all morality metaphors are based on the premise that it is better for a person to experience well-being than ill-being. Hence, well-being – any form of well-being – is moral. And when transferred onto the reasoning about a country via the NATION IS A PERSON/NATION IS A FAMILY metaphors (e.g. neighboring states, friendly states, a strong relationship between our countries, Mother Russia, Founding Fathers of our country etc.) or about any quality (beauty, strength, health, honesty etc.) or abstract notion (happiness, discipline, freedom), the premise of well-being gives rise to a wide range of the so-called MORALITY METAPHORS. So, being free is moral and that is why fighting for freedom is moral, that is why to want to fight for freedom (“Our cause…”) is moral.

Now, line 14 “Will come a brand new nation” exploits, among others, one of the metaphors I just showed you in the previous paragraph. It is NATION IS A PERSON. However, there is another metaphor here as well. It is BIRTH IS THE ARRIVAL, which is one of the main mappings within LIFE IS A JOURNEY metaphor. Why is that? Before the war for independence there was no American nation. It was the events of 1776 and the following years (well, and ten preceding years too) that constructed the national identity. That is why Jon Schaffer writes about “a brand new nation” here. In the light of the NATION IS A PERSON metaphor, the start of national self-identification may be conceptualized as the birth of the nation. It is the same pattern of reasoning, which is widely used to talk about a child to be born: A child is on the way (entailment: will come). I hope I made this point clear enough.

Line 15 “Where men are seen as equal” says “where men are understood to be equal”. It is one of the very basic primary metaphors, learned in the early childhood – KNOWING IS SEEING, which is experientially based on the ability to get information through vision.

Live free or die

The third passage follows below:

  1. So we make our stand and pray
  2. On this declaration day
  3. For independence I will fight
  4. With liberty I will defy
  5. So we make our stand and pray
  6. on this declaration day
  7. Give me liberty or give me death
  8. I’ll fight till my last breath

Line 17 “So we make our stand and pray” presents us with a widely known idiom. I will be honest with you I do not know how this metaphor came into being, as I did not conduct any research on that. However… I did not let it out of my focus and speculated on it just a bit. Look, “to make a stand” means literally something like “to stand upright and strong at your standing point without leaving it”. In this way, you are literally holding your piece of land to yourself, you stand on it, you are up and in control of it. This idiom, when applied to reasoning within some other than “physical position on the ground” domain, may be a linguistic realization of CONTROL IS UP/BEING UNDER CONTROL IS DOWN orientational metaphor. This set of metaphors belongs to the primary metaphors, learned unconsciously in the early childhood. According to Lakoff and Johnson (“Philosophy in the Flesh” 1999: 53), the experiential grounding of it is the observation that “[…] it is easier to control another person (my edition: like in parents – child relationship) or exert force on an object from above, where you have gravity working with you”. In the light of this metaphor, the idiom gets its meaning: We will not retreat, we will not cave in.

Line 20 “With liberty I will defy” presumably tells us that liberty itself will be fighting on the side of the insurgents. It seems to be simple personification of liberty.

In line 23, on the other side, (“Give me liberty or give me death”) a state of liberty, as well as that of death, is objectified (physical object). Objectification works in a simple way, turning abstract concepts into physical objects and then uses the reasoning about the manipulation of those objects when talking about the abstractions. In this context, both liberty and death are shown as the goods to trade. I am sure you are able to come up with dozens of your own examples from the everyday life conversations if you try it.

Finally, line 24 “I’ll fight till my last breath” has the BREATHING FOR LIFE metonymy, which is a kind of cause-effect relationship: if you breathe, you live. Right?

Oh that falsetto!..

We are slowly approaching the end. Let’s take a look at the last piece of our narrative:

  1. With virtue as our beacon
  2. Our cause is charged as treason
  3. Battle worn and starving
  4. Through the hell of war we’ll keep marching
  5. The birth of our new nation
  6. An act of desperation
  7. We’ll force King George down to his knees
  8. Capitulation

Line 25 “With virtue as our beacon” is almost a direct manifestation of the MORALITY IS LIGHT metaphor (for the experiential basis of that I refer you back to passage 2 above). As Lakoff (“The Political Mind” 2008: 96) puts it: “You are better off if you are functioning in the light than in the dark”. Hence, light is moral, darkness is not. In other words, what the line says is that “Our virtues are moral”.

Line 27 “Battle worn and starving” gives us the BATTLE FOR WAR metonymy (part-whole relationship, I suppose).

Then, in line 28 “Through the hell of war we’ll keep marching”, we find the only image metaphor in this piece of poetry: the image of biblical hell (fires, darkness, suffering and pain) is mapped onto the image of the American land at war.

The birth of our new nation” (line 29) takes us back to passage 2, where I already explained the case. It is the NATION IS A PERSON metaphor.

Finally, lines 31-32, showing us kneeling King George, is again a realization of the metaphor, which was just explained. Why is staying on the knees humiliating? It is the BEING UNDER CONTROL IS DOWN primary orientational metaphor. You are subdued. I am not going to repeat the explanation here.

Another month – another cool song taken apart and explained! I am not a die-hard fan of Iced Earth, but I deeply appreciate their LPs “Night of the Stormrider” (1991), “The Dark Saga” (1996) and “Something Wicked This Way Comes” (1998). At WOA 2011 I have rocked hard at Iced Earth gig – that one was the last show of Matt Barlow with the band (arguably, the best voice Iced Earth ever had – personal opinion).

Keep rocking and we will meet again in August!

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About Andriy Karamazov


3 responses to “Conceptual metaphors in “Declaration Day” by Iced Earth

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