Writing and reading poetry is beautiful form of art and expression. It can be incredibly cathartic as well when you read a sentence that was written so poignantly you feel like it echoed all of your personal feelings and hit the nail on the head. There are several types of poetry, styles and forms and a common thread within all of it is the use of metaphor. The definition of A metaphor is “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.” Or rather, a comparison between two things in which you replace the name of the object for something more abstract or less literal. William Shakespeare was known for using metaphors in poems quite often, perhaps famously saying in Sonnet 18, “Shall I compare these to a Summer’s day?”
If you’re writing poetry, it’s an incredibly useful and essential tool for your poetry to flow in a beautiful and, dare I say, “poetic” way. If you’re learning how to write poetry or teaching a group of students the best way to use metaphors in poems, we’ve gathered some examples for you to examine and work with when you’re creating your own poems!
Famous Metaphor Poems:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
“I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.”
As you can see, Emily introduces the metaphor in the first two lines of the poem, describing hope to be like a bird. Already, the imagery which is common in poetry stirs a feeling and a connection to the reader. It conjures up feelings, similar to that of hope; levity, freedom, singing and supported. She goes on to build her poem around the idea of a bird and how it develops and reacts to trials in life that occur, without asking a crumb of her.
I’m a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf’s big with its yeasty rising.
Money’s new-minted in this fat purse.
I’m a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I’ve eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there’s no getting off.
– Sylvia plath
The poem, appropriately titled, “metaphors,” is about Sylvia’s pregnancy and her feelings around the experience of being pregnant. Commonly, in poetry, a way of describing an event or situation without directly speaking of the event is by using metaphors. It’s a way for the reader to relate to the poetry and attach their own analysis and imagery without literal descriptions. To go deeper, The nine lines in the poem correspond to the nine months of pregnancy, and each line possesses nine syllables. When you understand the thought behind the metaphors, the words become much more relatable to the reader.
Mother to Son
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floors
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So, boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps.
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall nowâ”
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
by – Langston Hughes.
From the very beginning of this Langston Hughes poem, the tone of life is set by comparing and uphill battle to that of something opposite of pristine and golden. The metaphor develops with visual hardships that conjure ideas of pain or discomfort; the challenges of the Mother’s using symbols like tacks, splinters, uncarpeted floor, and dark, unlit corners. The ending rounds out with the idea that while it may be difficult, when faith is wavering….you keep going. Despite an arduous journey, you have to keep your chin high and carry on with faith. With the use of metaphors, difficulty and pain can be painted with a brighter color, a lighter shade.
Metaphor Poems for Young People
Explaining the differences between a metaphor and a simile for a young group of people, or a student can be hard to define. The differences are subtle for a budding mini poet. A simile is a type of metaphor in which the comparison is made with the use of the word like or its equivalent. For younger people, understanding metaphors in poetry can be helpful when the metaphor is less abstruse. A few examples that are digestible for the younger crowd:
What the Snow Man Said by Vachel Lindsay
The Moon’s a snowball. See the drifts
Of white that cross the sphere.
The Moon’s a snowball, melted down
A dozen times a year.
Yet rolled again in hot July
When all my days are done
And cool to greet the weary eye
After the scorching sun.
The moon’s a piece of winter fair
Renewed the year around,
Behold it, deathless and unstained,
Above the grimy ground!
It rolls on high so brave and white
Where the clear air-rivers flow,
Proclaiming Christmas all the time
And the glory of the snow!
The poem uses the metaphor of the moon, as a snowball. For young students, understanding common objects within their poetry as being interchangeable with other common things will help them explore their own metaphors. They’ll be able to see creativity in their use of language. With freedom and understanding of words, a writer has a better relationship with pen and with speech. Another great example and clear example for children is shown below:
Clouds by Christina G. Rossetti
White Sheep, white sheep
On a blue hill,
When the wind stops
You all stand still.
When the wind blows
You walk away slow.
White sheep, white sheep
Where do you go?
Comparing and Identifying Similes vs. Metaphors
Examples for your students to define the difference between similes and metaphors. Try if you can to have them write sentence of their own showing the difference between the two after reading through examples and becoming familiar with them.
Sea-Fever (by John Masefield)
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife…
The Base Stealer (by Robert Francis)
Poised between going on and back, pulled
Both ways taut like a tightrope-walker…
I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud (by William Wordsworth)
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills…
The way in which a writer can use metaphors in their poetry are broad and vast. Read as much as possible and study the beautiful words of famous poets with effortless metaphorical prose; Shakespeare, John Donne, John Keats, Maya Angelou and Mary Oliver. Understanding as well, how we use metaphors in everyday life in casual conversation keeps the brain sharp with creative fodder. Just notice next time your find yourself saying things like; As wise as an owl, Love is a battlefield, You’ve given me something to chew on, He’s just blowing off steam, He’s like a duck out of water.
As you can see, metaphors can be incredibly abstract or quite simple. The use for them in poetry and daily language is not only common, but makes speech and literature much more interesting. In no time, with a little study and playfully crafting sentences and new ideas, your use of metaphors in poetry will expand your capacity as a writer and your poetry will start shining!