Figurative language: Words can be music

Credit: Wikipedia Circle of Fifths
Wolsey. Farewell, a long farewell, to all my greatness!
This is the state of man: to-day he puts forth
The tender leaves of hope; to-morrow blossoms,
And bears his blushing honors thick upon him;
The third day comes a frost, a killing frost,
And when he thinks, good easy man, full surely
His greatness is a ripening, nips his root, .
And then he falls as I do.
Henry VIII Act III. Sc. 6.
We classify words. Frequently they fit into more than one category.

For instance, the words morning and evening properly belong to the day. But because they indicate a beginning and end, they also are applied uncommonly to other subjects. For instance, the phrase morning of life may to used to represent youth, and evening of life may be used in place of old age.

Shakespeare's Cardinal Wolsey uses words in senses that are different from their common meanings. The new uncommon meanings are what we call the "figurative sense" of the words.

For instance, Wolsey sprouts "tender leaves of hope" today, which become thick "blushing honors" of "blossoms" tomorrow. On the third day, "a killing frost" comes, which "nips his root," and then he's dead.

In order for us to make meaning of what Wolsey is trying to say, the uncommon sense Shakespeare gives to the words "leaves" and "blossoms" and "frost" and "root" must have some relation to the implied proper sense of the words. And the closer the relationship is, the more easily those words morph into mental images, or figures, in our heads. 

For instance, it's not a huge stretch at all to relate human aspiration (proper sense) to stages of plant growth (uncommon sense): first the sprouting of hope, then the blossoms of accomplishment, and finally, the frost of an unkind world that eventually kills the root.

So how does this "figuring" of language lend beauty to words? Well, it's sort of like the difference between one simple note and a harmonious chord.

A word used figuratively suggests to the reader two layers of meaning: one layer is the proper sense of the word and the other layer is the uncommon image sense. The proper meaning of the word is an integral part of the thought, and the uncommon meaning extends and decorates it.

So when an author uses figurative language, instead of  "hearing" only one note,  the reader hears two concordant notes which—without deviating from the melody—make the whole harmonious. Beauty has been added to speech.
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