If you've visited our poetry terms page before, then you know that a simile is a figure of speech using "like" or "as" to compare one thing to another thing of a different kind. Although different from metaphors, similes also suggest similarities between two unlike things or ideas, allowing for more vivid descriptions and images within verse.
Because they make it possible to draw creative, direct comparisons, similes are often found frequently in poetry and prose — writers enjoy using similes to create compelling visual images and emphasize emotional tones. But learning how to use a simile effectively can take some practice. To help you get a better handle on this literary device we'll walk through a few famous simile examples and give you some tips on how to use similes in your own work.
- They've got the power. The power of a simile is easy to understand after taking some time to break down your own reactions to other instances of simile in literature. Consider how the poet Billy Collins uses a simile in the poem Books: "He moves from paragraph to paragraph / as if touring a house of endless, paneled rooms." We can identify the simile here through the word "as," which creates a hinge between two concepts: reading, and "touring a house." We are all familiar with moving "from paragraph to paragraph" of text, and likely associate our own sets of emotions and memories with the act of reading. But Collins deepens our understanding of a familiar task by using simile, connecting the image of a person wandering through "endless, paneled rooms" to the idea of exploring stories through literature.
- Simile the superhero. Unsurprisingly, we can find another example of a simile in Robert Hass' poem Heroic Simile: "When the swordsman fell in Kurosawa's Seven Samurai / in the gray rain, / in the Cinemascope and the Tokugawa dynasty, / he fell straight as a pine, he fell / as Ajax fell in Homer / in chanted dactyls..." Here, Hass uses two similes to describe a fallen swordsman — first, we are asked to imagine the regal death of a man who "fell straight as a pine," a clear and dramatic image. Then Hass demands that we also compare the death of the swordsman to the way "Ajax fell in Homer." The word "as" connects this single poetic moment to both the visual image of the falling pine and to Homer's mythological story of Ajax. So when we read the swordsman's death in Hass' poem, we not only visualize it, but also consider a larger literary history of dying heroes.
- Don't just use it — use it effectively. A simile may be the exact poetic device you need to communicate a profound thought. The way you choose to employ imaginative, figurative language is what makes your poems unique, and a simile is a great literary tool to have in your arsenal.
- Always include "like" or "as." When creating a simile, always remember to use "like" or "as" to make a direct link between two things or ideas — without these words, your comparison might actually be classified as a metaphor, or just be confusing to your readers.
- Find similarities in difference. Similes are most effective when they connect ideas, emotions, or images that don't usually pair together. Originality leads to interesting comparisons, which are often more successful at conveying complex emotions, capturing a reader's attention, or painting a memorable picture.
- All about the imagery. It's easier to create an effective simile when you make your comparison with strong imagery. Use your words to demand that readers conjure a striking image. Even if the point of your simile is to communicate a thought or emotion, you can drive your point home by providing a full-sensory experience of a feeling.
When it comes to similes and other poetic devices, don't be shy — your figurative language can only improve as you practice it, and every writer has to start somewhere. Tweet us more examples of famous similes @PowerPoetry — and if you're determined to become a poet, check out the rest of Power Poetry's resources!