The Mind is a Metaphor is an extensive database of historical metaphors of the mind. Assembled and maintained by Brad Pasanek, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Virginia, it serves as “an evolving work of reference, an ever more interactive, more solidly constructed collection of mental metaphorics”.
The collection of metaphors – almost ten thousand and counting – is categorised by literary period, genre, type, and (where known and applicable) author’s gender, nationality, politics, and religion. Examples span millennia, from classical texts to more recent works, with a strong focus on the period 1660–1819.
Currently on the front page are several lines from Heraclitus. Clicking through each quotation, we are provided with additional context, strengthening a site that even on a brief visit is rewarding to browse. Every page offers a wealth of images; I plucked these from a few minutes’ meandering:
What an April weather in the mind! (Alexander Pope, 1713)
My heart is melting wax (Charles Wesley, 1749)
Every time I tried to concentrate, my mind glided off, like a skater, into a large empty space, and pirouetted there, absently. (Sylvia Plath, 1963)
The Mind, in peaceful Solitude, has Room / To range in Thought, and ramble far from home (Mary Barber, 1735)
Heads overfull of matter, be like pens over full of ink, which will sooner blot, than make any fair letters at all. (Roger Ascham, 1570, quoted by Samuel Johnson, 1755)
A letter always seemed to me like Immortality, for is it not the mind alone, without corporeal friend? (Emily Dickinson, 1882)
Flowers, rivers, woods, the pleasant air and wind, / With Sacred thoughts, do feed my serious mind. (Rowland Watkyns, 1662)
The back of the mind is a small hotel / And when the residents go on picnics / Or take buckets and spades down to the sea / The betrayals begin. (Michael Longley, 1980)
My own brain is to me the most unaccountable of machinery–always buzzing, humming, soaring roaring diving, and then buried in mud. (Virginia Woolf, 1932)
Pasanek describes the database as more a “heap or helter-skelter anthology” than an online archive, and invites readers to go looking for its “many strange and surprising metaphors”. You can search by keyword and by faceted browsing, dipping in at random or tracing patterns in intellectual and cultural attitudes through time.
I tweeted about this site back in March and meant to blog about it then, but my notes are a bit helter-skelter too, and I let it go until now. There’s also a Mind is a Metaphor blog, which analyses particular metaphors in more detail, but it hasn’t been updated in a few years.
For more on metaphorical language, see my previous posts about metaphor.