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?


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.

Return to the poetry basics hub page.