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Metaphor Definition

Metaphor is a figure of speech which makes an implicit, implied or hidden comparisonbetween two things or objects that are poles apart from each other but have some characteristics common between them. In other words, a resemblance of two contradictory or different objects is made based on a single or some common characteristics.

In simple English, when you portray a person, place, thing, or an action as being something else, even though it is not actually that “something else,” you are speaking metaphorically. “He is the black sheep of the family” is a metaphor because he is not a sheep and is not even black. However, we can use this comparison to describe an association of a black sheep with that person. A black sheep is an unusual animal and typically stays away from the herd, and the person you are describing shares similar characteristics.

Furthermore, a metaphor develops a comparison which is different from a simile i.e. we do not use “like” or “as” to develop a comparison in a metaphor. It actually makes an implicit or hidden comparison and not an explicit one.

Common Speech Examples of Metaphors

Most of us think of a metaphor as a device used in songs or poems only, and that it has nothing to do with our everyday life. In fact, all of us in our routine life speak, write and think in metaphors. We cannot avoid them. Metaphors are sometimes constructed through our common language. They are called conventional metaphors. Calling a person a “night owl” or an “early bird” or saying “life is a journey” are common conventional metaphor examples commonly heard and understood by most of us. Below are some more conventional metaphors we often hear in our daily life:

  1. My brother was boiling mad. (This implies he was too angry.)
  2. The assignment was a breeze. (This implies that the assignment was not difficult.)
  3. It is going to be clear skies from now on. (This implies that clear skies are not a threat and life is going to be without hardships)
  4. The skies of his future began to darken. (Darkness is a threat; therefore, this implies that the coming times are going to be hard for him.)
  5. Her voice is music to his ears. (This implies that her voice makes him feel happy)

Literary Metaphor Examples

Metaphors are used in all type of literature but not often to the degree they are used in poetry because poems are meant to communicate complex images and feelings to the readers and metaphors often state the comparisons most emotively. Here are some examples of metaphor from famous poems.

Example #1

“She is all states, and all princes, I.”

John Donne, a metaphysical poet, was well-known for his abundant use of metaphors throughout his poetical works. In his well-known work “The Sun Rising,” the speaker scolds the sun for waking him and his beloved. Among the most evocative metaphors in literature, he explains “she is all states, and all princes, I.” This line demonstrates the speaker’s belief that he and his beloved are richer than all states, kingdoms, and rulers in the entire world because of the love that they share.

Example #2

“Shall I Compare Thee to a summer’s Day”,

William Shakespeare was the best exponent of the use of metaphors. His poetical works and dramas all make wide-ranging use of metaphors.

Sonnet 18,”also known as “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day,” is an extended metaphor between the love of the speaker and the fairness of the summer season. He writes that “thy eternal summer,” here taken to mean the love of the subject, “shall not fade.”

Example #3

“Before high-pil’d books, in charact’ry / Hold like rich garners the full-ripened grain,”

The great Romantic poet John Keats suffered great losses in his life – the death of his father in an accident, and of his mother and brother through tuberculosis.

When he began displaying signs of tuberculosis himself at the age of 22, he wrote “When I Have Fears,” a poem rich with metaphors concerning life and death. In the line “before high-pil’d books, in charact’ry / Hold like rich garners the full-ripened grain”, he employs a double-metaphor. Writing poetry is implicitly compared with reaping and sowing, and both these acts represent the emptiness of a life unfulfilled creatively.


From the above arguments, explanations and examples, we can easily infer the function of metaphors; both in our daily lives and in a piece of literature. Using appropriate metaphors appeals directly to the senses of listeners or readers, sharpening their imaginations to comprehend what is being communicated to them. Moreover, it gives a life-like quality to our conversations and to the characters of the fiction or poetry. Metaphors are also ways of thinking, offering the listeners and the readers fresh ways of examining ideas and viewing the world.