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What Is a Metaphor?
A metaphor (from the Greek metaphorá) is a figure of speech that directly compares one thing to another for rhetorical effect. While the most common metaphors use the structure “X is Y,” the term “metaphor” itself is broad and can sometimes be used to include other literary terms, like similes. One of the most famous examples of metaphor in the English language comes from William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, in which the playwright writes: “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.” Shakespeare is comparing the world to a stage by saying one is the other. However, he doesn’t believe the world is a literal stage; the comparison is rhetorical. By comparing the world to a stage, he is inviting us to think about the similarities between the two—and by extension, the meaning of human nature and our place in the world.
5 Metaphor Examples in Literature
Metaphors are one of the most common literary devices found in prose and poetry. In addition to literature, metaphors are found throughout music, including in song titles like “Love is a Battlefield” by Pat Benetar or “You Ain’t Nothing but a Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley. Many great thinkers and orators incorporated famous metaphors into their public speeches and writing including John F. Kennedy, Albert Einstein and George Orwell. Below is a list of famous metaphors from literature:
- “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson: In the poem, Dickinson makes a direct comparison between the feeling of hope and a bird. She uses figurative language to personify the concept of hope and paint a vivid picture of a living, breathing, ebullient force that lives within her.
- “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” by William Shakespeare: Shakespeare uses an extended metaphor through the entirety of this sonnet, comparing an unseen lover to a summer’s day.
- “The Sun Rising” by John Donne: In this poem, Donne uses hyperbole and figurative language to draw a metaphorical link between the narrator’s relationship and the sun.
- Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare: When Romeo sees Juliet at the beginning of the famous balcony scene, he speaks the iconic line, “But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!” Upon seeing Juliet alight upon her balcony, Romeo uses metaphor to compare her visage to that of the sun.
- “Metaphors” by Sylvia Plath: In this poem, Plath builds a nine-line picture of a pregnant woman through the use of a variety of metaphors. The nine lines correspond to the nine months of pregnancy, and each one introduces a new image to which a pregnant woman is compared.
10 Examples of Common Metaphors
Metaphors come up often in everyday figures of speech and colloquial turns of phrase. Examples of metaphors can be found in everyday life. Below is a list of common metaphors found in the English language:
- Blanket of snow: This common phrase compares a layer of snow to a soft, fluffy blanket.
- Better half: Many people use this phrase to refer to their significant other. It metaphorically implies that two individuals are part of one body by nature of their union.
- Slippery slope: This phrase warns of impending danger initiated by a few small steps.
- Roller coaster of emotions: This phrase connects a mercurial emotional state with the ups and downs of an amusement park roller coaster.
- Late bloomer: A common metaphor that draws a link between aging and a blooming flower.
- Beating a dead horse: This phrase likens a redundant action to the unnecessary wounding of a dead animal.
- Heart of stone: This description can be applied to someone who is unfeeling and cold.
- Couch potato: This metaphor draws a link between a sedentary person and a potato.
- Melting pot: This image is often used to describe a culture or place where people from a diverse array of backgrounds unite.
- Black sheep: This draws a link between a member of a group who doesn’t fit in and an anomalous sheep with black wool in a herd of common white sheep.
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