Poetry 101: Metaphor

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Defining Metaphor

A poet builds concepts metaphor by metaphor. Each metaphor is a bridge leading the reader to more full understanding of whatever the writer is describing. Despite how frequently we use metaphors, however, many writers are confused about the word’s meaning.

Metaphor: A metaphor is a direct, non-literal comparison made between two dissimilar objects, actions, or traits.

In plain English: When you describe a person, place, thing, or action as being something else, even though it isn’t actually that “something else,” you’re speaking metaphorically. “He was the black sheep of the family” is a metaphor because he isn’t a sheep and may not even be black. However, we can use this comparison to draw associations between the black sheep and the person: Black sheep are unusual and typically stay away from their herd, and the person you’re describing shares those characteristics.

If the comparison isn’t direct, it’s not a metaphor. If the comparison is literal, it’s not a metaphor.

Metaphors are often formed as “Subject + is + [metaphoric comparison].” For example, “Her heart is a volcano” or “My brothers are cheeky little monkeys.” More advanced comparisons are certainly also possible, such as “The volcano in her chest erupted.”

This is a subject we’ve written about extensively here on the Creative Writing Guild. For a whole lot more on this topic, check out our metaphor lesson series.

Metaphor Mad Libs

To demonstrate this concept of metaphors more directly, let’s play a game of Mad Libs:

  1. Location

  2. Adjective

  3. Noun

  4. Noun

  5. Location

  1. Animal

  2. Noun

  3. Noun – Plural

  4. Noun

  5. Noun – Plural

Don’t peak!

Don’t do it!

Did you get all of your items? Not yet?

Okay … now?

Ready?

Here you go!

All the world’s a ____1____.

(All the world’s a stage.)

Dying is a ____2____ ______3____.

(Dying is a wild night.)

Conscience is a man’s ____4____.

(Conscience is a man’s compass.)

Love is a ____5_____.

(Love is a battlefield.)

A woman without a man is a ____6_____ without a _____7____. 

(A woman without a man is a fish without a bicycle.)

Books are the ____8_____ of the soul.

(Books are the mirrors of the soul.)

Religion is the ___9_____ of the masses.

(Religion is the opiate of the masses.)

Memories are ____10_____.

(Memories are bullets.)

Some Intentional Metaphors

Now do it on purpose. Write out a five of your own metaphors.

Once you’re done, share your results and mad lib findings in the comments, below!

Move on to the imagery lesson.

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