A metaphor is a comparison between essentially unlike things or the application of a name or description to something to which it is not literally applicable.

History of Metaphor

Metaphor comes from the Greek word metaphora meaning “a transfer” in the sense of carrying over, altering, or changing the essence of one word to a different word. Metaphor is distinct from simile, another element of figurative language that compares two unlike things, in that metaphor does not use the words “like,” or “as” in its comparison. Metaphor is used in poetry to establish imagery by creating a vivid picture of how an object, person, or action might appear. Comparing one object to another seemingly unlike object establishes a connection between the two. 

Examples of Metaphor

In her poem “Dead Stars,” Ada Limón uses metaphor to compare humans on Earth to the constellations above. The speaker says “we’re dead stars too, my mouth is full / of dust and I wish to reclaim the rising.” The speaker is not literally a dead star, but the metaphor considers the visibility and collectivity of stars forming constellations in a galaxy as well as its similarity to humans gathering and coexisting on Earth. 

Other poems that use metaphor include “Fame is a fickle food” by Emily Dickinson, “My Letters! all dead paper... (Sonnet 28)” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning “Winter Colony” by Anne Sexton, and “Elegy with Apples, Pomegranates, Bees, Butterflies, Thorn Bushes, Oak, Pine, Warblers, Crows, Ants, and Worms” by Hayan Charara.