7 Tips for Creating (Poignant) Poetic Metaphors

Metaphors are a great tool to use if you want to liven up your poetry, and make people really think more deeply about what you write. Check out these poems that make great use of metaphor, and keep reading to find out what exactly a metaphor is, and how to use one correctly.

  1. What is it? A metaphor is a word or phrase which refers to one object or concept, but is used in place of a different object or concept as an analogy in order to show that the two things are similar. It’s really a lot less complicated than it sounds. Trust us.
  2. No, it’s not the same thing as a simile! You might have heard of a simile, which is also the comparison of two unlike things in writing, but there is a slight difference. The easiest way to tell a simile apart from a metaphor is that similes use the words “like” or “as” to compare two things, and metaphors do not. For example, a simile could be “Her eyes shone as brightly as the sun” while a metaphor would be “Her eyes were sunshine.”
  3. When do I Use a Metaphor? In poetry, metaphors are most often used when you want to compare two things so that the reader understands their similarity in an indirect way. You use exaggeration to say what you want without really saying what you mean. This makes the reader find the meaning for themselves.
  4. Let’s Break it Down: Think of an object or idea that you’d like to write about, then brainstorm some other objects or ideas that are similar to it. Once you have the two, try to form a phrase which makes it clear that one is like the other. You’re definitely familiar with some metaphors — you just might not have known what figure of speech they were. Ever heard of it raining cats and dogs, or have you met someone with a heart of stone? Yup, you’ve met a metaphor.
  5. How to Create a Metaphor: Take the sentence “I was drowning in the deep blue sea” as an example. Read literally and out of context, this means exactly what it says. However, in a poem, a writer might use this sentence to express sorrow. Drowning can be interpreted to mean being overwhelmed, or struggling against something beyond our control. The color blue is often used to symbolize sadness, and the ocean is salt water — just like tears. So "drowning in the deep blue sea" makes a popular metaphor for struggling against overwhelming sadness. Voila! A metaphor!
  6. Extended Metaphors: Sometimes poets choose to use one metaphor in the beginning of a poem, and elaborate on it as the poem unfolds. This is a good tactic to keep in mind, since too many different metaphors in one poem can get pretty confusing with all the different symbols and comparisons.
  7. Power Poetry: Now that you have the hang of metaphors, take them for a test run! Show off your newfound skills by posting your poems to Power Poetry.

Sonnet 130
William Shakespeare

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
 And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
  As any she belied with false compare.

The Journey
Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice-
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.

It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do-
determined to save
the only life that you could save.

-from Dream Work


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