Metaphor plays a vital role in literature as well as poetry. It is a figure of speech that expresses an action or describes an object by comparing it with other objects, which are generally not related. It is a comparison between two things to help readers understand the resemblance. Metaphors are used in poetry to explain feelings, emotions, and associations with other elements that cannot be described in normal language.
Types of Metaphor
There are four different types of metaphors:
- Standard Metaphor
- Implied Metaphor
- Visual Metaphor
- Extended Metaphor
Effective Metaphor and the Brain of Reader
An effective metaphor helps the poet to get rid of excessive clarification and description. Through metaphor, a poet creates an image in the mind of the reader, similar to imagery, which enables them to understand the idea of the poet more deeply and effectively.
Here are a few examples
Mighty Oak – Kathy J Parenteau
“Stand tall, oh mighty oak, for all the world to see.
Your strength and undying beauty forever amazes me.
Though storm clouds hover above you,
Your branches span the sky”
In the above poem, the image of tree is used metaphorically as a token of inspiration. Poet has firm faith in his father, just like humanity on trees, because father plays a special place in her life.
The Children’s Hour by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti,
Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
Is not a match for you all!
I have you fast in my fortress,
And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
This poem has rich metaphors with also light-hearted comparison, as the author addresses his children to express his love toward them. The poet compares his age to the old mustache to express its fragility. He also compares his heart to a dungeon, comparing his deep love for his children.
A Broken Family Tree by Lori McBride
i am one of many
Small branches of a broken tree,
Always looking to the ones above
For guidance, strength and security.
In this poem, the poet metaphorically describes the despairing life of a child from a broken family. However, later this poem becomes the source of strength and motivation for the children to be strong despite the brokenness.
A Dream within a Dream by Edgar Allan Poe
I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand–
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep–while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
This poem by Edgar Allan Poe talks about dreams and adventures within his dream. Here, he compares ‘sand’ to time. Because sand is impossible to count, and it slips away from our hands when we try to hold it. The second metaphor here is ‘deep’ which is compared to a sea or ocean.
Democracy by Langston Hughes
I tire so of hearing people say,
Let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day.
I do not need my freedom when I’m dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.
Is a strong seed
In a great need.
One of the best poems by Langston Hughes talks about choices and equality among people. Here he had used a metaphor comparing freedom to a seed because a seed grows into a tree and spreads its roots. That means ‘the seed of freedom’ can be planted in people and help them to be strong and independent. Tomorrow’s bread is compared to hope because hope is like food that keeps us nourished mentally.
An Ocean Of Memories by Kimberly L. Briones
My family is the ocean around us.
My father is the hurricane,
knocking anything and everybody out of his path.
My mother is the sunshine after the storm (my father),
clearing and calming everything else.
My oldest brother is the sand,
kicked and blown away by my dad,
but warmed with care by my mom…
I am an old ship at the bottom of the sea,
lost, abandoned, but full of memories.
The above poem is a wonderful example of a metaphor. The poet has described each relationship beautifully with nature as she recalls her past. She believes her family is an ocean while her father is compared to the hurricane because of his strength. Her mother is compared to sunshine because sunshine cheers up people. Her brother is compared to sand, who’s cared for by their parents. Finally, the poet compares herself with an old ship as she has lost of them as she grew older and became memories.
When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Here’s another example from one of the famous poets. The entire poem is an extended metaphor where Birches is compared to the life of creativity. The boy swinging on birches is a metaphor for the youth and aging process. It means when we are young, we are full of enthusiasm and creativity, and the challenges are don’t bend us easily. As we grow old, we are like ice. Here ice is the metaphor for adult pressures on imagination. Thus, the poet expresses that ice, i.e., adulthood dulls our imaginations as they pull us towards other responsibilities.
The Pencil Case by Beatrice Alesana-Rennie
The eraser erased my bad habits
While the pencil drew in new ones
The glue stick glued on a whole new face
As the scissors cut away my background and past
The ball point pen then made the changes permanent
While the colored pencils shaded in my body
The calculator changed my way of thinking
As the sharpener grazed over my rough edges
Finally, the ruler
I had to measure up to your standards
Now me and you
We walk, talk and think the same
Two moving as one
This poem is metaphorically inspired by daily objects by students at school. It expresses the quality of these simple tools such as eraser, pencil, scissors, glue stick, pen, color pencils, calculator, sharpener, and ruler. Each item is compared to the standard of life, like removing bad habits and changing for the better; these standards are quickly diminishing among young folks. Hence the poet, encourage the kids to learn to be better by comparing the best qualities of life with these simple tools.
Fire and Ice by Robert Frost
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
In this poem, the poet describes how the world will end. The fire is the metaphor used for human desire, i.e., greed, fury, lust, and conflict, and the ice plays a metaphoric role for hatred. i.e., rigidity, cold-heartedness, and insensitivity.
A Bag of Tools By R. L. Sharpe
Each is given a bag of tools,
A shapeless mass,
A book of rules;
And each must make—
Ere life is flown—
A stumbling block
Or a steppingstone
In the above poem, the poet uses wonderful comparisons to explain the value of hard work to build a better character. Here ‘bag of tools’ is a metaphor for things we get in life, such as opportunities, talents, and skills, including a guide to live our lives. A stumbling block or a stepping stone is a metaphor for whether we’ll become a failure or succeed in life.
With an overall look, we can understand that the metaphor is a perfect literary device to create a direct or indirect comparison between two apparently distinct persons, objects, qualities, and animals. It deepens the meanings, thoughts, and ideas while showing imagery to feel and compare them.