Metaphor in poetry is like painting with words. It’s that trick where you compare one thing to another, not using simile by using “like” or “as,” but simply saying something is something else.
For example, saying “time is a thief” paints time as a sneaky burglar in our minds.
Metaphors are the poets’ secret sauce, adding flavor and depth to the words. They allow us to grasp abstract concepts by comparing them to something concrete, making the unfamiliar feel familiar. It’s not just a way to describe; it’s a way to connect.
Metaphors breathe life into poetry, turning ordinary language into something vivid, colorful, and emotionally charged. Using metaphor is a great way to imbue your poems with emotional resonance and novel insights.
There is only so far definitions can take us in understanding metaphor. Let’s look at a few examples of metaphor in action to solidify it.
Hope is the thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
This poem is a great example because even the title is a metaphor! In this poem, hope is metaphorically compared to a bird with feathers, conveying its lightness and resilience in the face of adversity. Read the full poem, and extended metaphor, here.
Nick and the Candlestick by Sylvia Plath
I have hung our cave with roses,
With soft rugs—
Sylvia Plath is a master of metaphor. She starts this poem by saying “I am a miner” which reinforces the metaphor of her comparing the emptiness of her house to a “cave.” The entire poem is a beautiful combination of metaphorical images. Read the full poem here.
O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won
Walt Whitman’s poem “O Captain! My Captain!” uses the metaphor of a ship’s captain who has died to represent the death of President Abraham Lincoln at the end of the U.S. Civil War. Read the full poem here.