Using Metaphor

In this series of blogs, I have tried to give you my personal view on how to write a poem, in particular a sonnet. I do not want to get too technical, there are books for that.

It is now time to look at metaphor. This word stems from the Greek verb metaphorien “to transfer”. Why can that be useful in poetry?

Poems are ambassadors of feeling. You will want the fourteen lines of your sonnet to have as great as impact as possible, to have resonance with your readers and even attempt to describe the indescribable. How to achieve this? Well, through similes and metaphors. These are ways of using words that transfer their literal meaning.

In metaphor, a ‘vehicle’ moves some its meanings over to a nearby word in an implied fashion. Imagine coincidentally arriving at a party at the same time as a famous person: this might transfer some of that fame to your reputation in the eyes of casual observers. You haven’t announced that you’re as famous as them explicitly but it might be implied. Or it might not. It’s subtle.

To describe your feelings, you should always try create original metaphors. Ones that are not archaic or clichéd. This where your creativity is vital.

There are different types or metaphors from the simple “love is blue” type, through verb-metaphors, such as “he towered over her”, up to an extended metaphor or even allegory. If you really want to understand this subject in detail, you’ll have to find a good poetry book. So I have a second hand copy of “A Poet’s Guide to Poetry”, Mary Kinzie [1].

As another example of some metaphors, here is a line from my “Coup d’Etat” sonnet [2]:

“Waiters bask, slip through pools of light like sharks”,

which contains two verb-metaphors and a simile at the end to hammer the point home. The intent is that the menace of the shark image is transferred to the waiters. I hastily add that I’ve rarely come across a menacing waiter in real life.

Try to understand and be creative with metaphors. Go read some good poems.

  1. “A Poet’s Guide to Poetry”, Mary Kinzie, University of Chicago Press, 1999, ISBN 0-226-43739-6.
  2. Reach Poetry Magazine, Issue 251, ISSN1461-1112.



One thought on “Using Metaphor

  1. This makes a really good and useful read for poets. Thanks for passing it on. It makes me wonder if you could, in future, set yourself up as a tutor to would-be poets – evening classes, that sort of thing… Something to do in your retirement!

    Ann xx


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