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I am a fairly avid songwriter, and although I like writing meaningful lyrics, I am not particularly good at it.

I tend to use a lot of metaphors in my lyrics, but they're always quite easy to understand -- my lyrics aren't the "figure out a meaning for yourself" kind.

Currently I am writing about somebody who refuses to speak, and I'm using the following line for that:

I see your lips, and they are golden.

Trying to stay as concise as possible, I'm using "golden" as a reference to the "silence is golden" proverb.

What I am worried about right now is whether people will catch on to this when reading/hearing this particular line. Are there any techniques to "guide" people into the direction of what I am trying to say, without literally explaining the metaphor? Or am I simply overthinking it, and should I assume that people will understand it this way?

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    Yeah, I didn't get the reference. I doubt many people will. – CLockeWork Feb 19 '15 at 9:02
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    I like what you're trying to do with the metaphor. I don't know if it will work here because you're trying to reference another metaphor. Silence is not literally a color; the phrase means "silence is as valuable as gold." If the refusal to speak is a good thing, maybe you can make it work, but if the narrator is entreating the other person to speak, I don't think you can cross your imagery. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Feb 19 '15 at 11:19
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    @LaurenIpsum: That is actually a very good point... The narrator is indeed hoping for "you" to speak, so perhaps this metaphor is out of place. – Lee White Feb 19 '15 at 11:29
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    You might want to take this to the Music Fans SE area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/61574/music-fans --it's not open yet, but it will go into private beta as soon as two more people commit. – Chris Sunami supports Monica Feb 19 '15 at 15:59
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Besides my comment above about referencing the wrong item, in a more general sense, you can make a metaphor clearer by working backwards from your end result.

If your end is "silence is golden," which is the important idea you want to reference, consider what part of a person makes sound. It's not really the lips, but the mouth. (I wouldn't use "golden voice" because that already means "having a beautiful voice.") Possibly you could use "tongue," which also means language.

Pushing it further, why stay with "golden"? Maybe use gilded or gilt,, and then you can pun on guilt depending on why the "you" is silent.

So your lyric could be something like (you'll have to work out your own meter):

a mouth of gilt

a mouth, gilt

your gilded mouth

your mouth full of gold

your tongue covered in gilt/guilt

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    Nice wordplay off of guilt / gild / and the use of gold. – raddevus Feb 20 '15 at 16:40
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It's unlikely anyone will make that connection unaided, but, speaking as a big fan of lyrics, it's not necessarily a problem if people don't understand everything in your lyrics.

Even more than is the case for ordinary poetry, a large part of successful lyrics is the raw sound of the words. Many great songs have been written with lyrics that presumably mean something to the writer, yet are obscure to the world.

I would venture you may find yourself happier with your lyrics if you let go of some of the rules and guidelines that surround other types of writing. When the meaning is too clear and direct, the song often sounds trite. I wouldn't deliberately be obscure, but if the lyric otherwise works for the song, I would leave it as is. For me personally, encountering a mysterious reference in a song, although frustrating, can actually increase my sense of engagement with the song --similar to how songs in foreign languages always sound more profound than they actually are.

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Having read lauren Ipsum's comments, I am hesitant to build upon a metaphor you may be abandoning, still confronting obscurity in lyrics seems worthy of some effort.

I disagree with the idea that obscurity should be welcome in lyrics. All writing, whether literary or lyrical, should strive to clearly communicate ideas. Anything short of that, sucks all meaning from our words, leaving the effort of writing them wasted.

It is hard to judge how well you convey your thoughts through a single line, but I would challenge your adherence to expansive grammar in a medium that doesn't require it. You wrote...

"I see your lips"

...where the words "I see" could easily be implied.

"and they are golden"

...again, the words "and they are" serve the laws of grammar more than they do your message.

Removing these unnecessary words, you are left with...

"Your lips, golden"

Same meaning as before, but now there is room to introduce your metaphor...

"Silent, your lips are golden"

Careful listeners should be able to sense the proverb lurking under your prose, when it is presented that way.

I know that I've messed up your original metre, dropping several syllables from the first half of the phrase. This is a prime example of why I don't write songs. Getting the words right is about the best that I can do. The rhythm always escapes me.

If in your efforts to serve the cadence of the notes, you have to surrender either clarity or perfect grammar, I would strongly suggest that you give grammar the boot and wrestle instead with your words.

The right words are infinitely superior to the almost right words. Find them!

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