Metaphor Poems

compassIn reality, there are not any poems that are not metaphors of some kind. Still, people want to know what a true metaphor poem would be like. Sometimes it takes a little explaining to clarify why all poems are metaphors by starting with one that is quite obvious in its metaphorical form. For those who are perhaps neophytes in the world of poetry, let’s begin by making the observation that many poems are actually just one continuous metaphor, from beginning to end, while others contain a variety of metaphors which are used to describe a singular concept or object. Each symbol or word, each idea or metaphor seeks to explain or to describe an actual reality – something that truly exists – outside of or on the exterior of any individual person. If you attempt to grasp it through the images and the words, the metaphor will call to that truth or reality even beyond those things, and it will help you find the general meaning, or the essence, of the idea that is being presented by the poem’s metaphor.

A very good example of a poem which makes obvious usage of the metaphor is William Shakespeare‘s Sonnet 18. As you read through this poem, you can see how he uses the metaphor openly to create a meaning that is easily understood by the reader.

Sonnet 18 – Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day
by William Shakespeare


This poem is, in reality, a riddle. The interesting thing that Shakespeare does not share with us is who “thee” is when they are together at their home, thereby leaving it to the actual metaphor itself to describe or explain it for us. The riddle in this poem is actually rather simple if we just allow the poem to do what Shakespeare intended for it to do. Of course, this is found in the answer to the question about defining that which is immortal and that will grow for eternity. If we look at the opening question, we’ll see that this is the starting point — the ‘set up’, if you will — “Shall I compare thee . . . ?” This type of language is typical of metaphor poetry, as it helps to generate any number of metaphors. It serves as an excellent example of what a metaphor poem really is all about.

As we look deeper into metaphor poems, we will learn that they often do more than just describe an idea or a concept, but that they actually put us in touch with the essence of that idea or concept. Unlike a description, which is a conscious effort, when use attempt to evoke a feeling, then we have succeeded in taking poem and creating a metaphorical reality.

An excellent example of this is John Donne‘s poem about two separated lovers who are like the points of compass needle, always apart, yet still always one. Read it for yourself and see if you begin to ‘feel’ the metaphor more than look for an ‘explanation.”

If They Be Two
by John Donne


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