metaphor | a woman walks down a glomy, grey path n the distance, but holds a bright pink umbrella above her - an indication of brighter things to come.


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


Photo by h.koppdelaney

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