What is meant by the term metaphor?
Metaphor is language that directly compares seemingly unrelated subjects. It employs “figurative language” or “figures of speech”. A figure of speech is a word or phrase that departs from straightforward, literal language. Figures of speech are often used and crafted for emphasis, freshness of expression, or clarity.
The difference between a metaphor and a simile? A simile is to compare something to something else; a metaphor is to speak as if something is something else.
Here’s an extract from TS Eliot’s The Love-Song of J Alfred Prufrock:
‘…the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes’
Note here how Eliot describes the ‘yellow smoke’ as if it is a conscious entity, an animal, ‘Rubbing its back on the window-panes’ – this is an example of metaphor where what is probably fog is described as if it is a cat. If Eliot had extended the second line to read ‘Rubbing its back upon the window-panes like a cat’, then the image would become a simile rather than a pure metaphor.
The technique of speaking of/describing an object, non-human/animal entity (like a tree or a flower), or abstract, as if it is a person or animal is called personification.
Here’s an example of personification of inanimate things in a poem:
The Old Pianos
On the stave of a curb-lined street I stopped
by a piano shop, stared in the window
at the old mahogany men crouched round
their stools in the shade, baring their yellowing
teeth, odd gaps of ebony in-between –
I lingered; longed to brush white their
un-fingered gap-toothed ivories.
Here you can see the old pianos are described as if they are old men “crouched round their stools” with “gap-toothed ivories”. Now try writing in the same way, using personification, to describe the object in front of you.
compiled by Alan Morrison for Creative Future