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Hello guys, this Björn hosting the bar tonight.

One of my favorite tools of poetry is metaphor. The word has its origin in the Greek word μεταφορά (metaphorá), “transfer” and came to English through latin.

In the dictionary metaphor means a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance.

The metaphor as a literary device is very much related to the simile, where the author use the figure of speech as a comparison rather than a direct image. The simile is more like a carbon copy than the original in my view.

A metaphor also has a relative in cliches and idioms. These are metaphors that have turned so used so the element of surprise you can expect from a good metaphor. Many of these have originally been good metaphors.

Today I want you to:

  1. Avoid similes, do not use the words “like” or “as”
  2. Avoid cliches and idioms
  3. The metaphor should be well-known and detailed

If you still want to use these you can still spice them up by for instance making them more exact, or adding complexity to the image.

For instance Pablo Neruda use a salt rose instead of a rose, and “arrow of carnations” in his famous Sonnet XVII (yes I know that it’s a simile, but still the imagery goes way beyond any normal flowery language).

Another example of excellent metaphors is Tomas Tranströmer in his poem After a Death uses many metaphors to describe mourning. A snowy TV-picture, the drop of water on a telephone lines and pages torn from old telephone directories. Notice that the images are also exact and will put us right into the mind of the author.

Notice also that we know already from the beginning that this is a requiem, and when we connect the images with the images, just like we know that Neruda describes everything that his love is not. The use of conceit is usually more fitting to an allegory of extended metaphor.

Is there a metaphor to be found in bedrock striations? Photo Copyright Björn Rudberg

Creating metaphors is a bit like finding constellations in the stars or finding shapes in clouds. It’s fun and playful.

If you prefer to do an extended metaphor I will not ostracize you for such an effort, but I would prefer if you focused on only imagery.

Another way to create a metaphor is with reference to something well known such as a myth or a piece of literature. For instance in my poem An Albatross I used a reference to Samuel Coleridge’s poem “The rhyme of the ancient Mariner” to describe the duality of freedom. Of course this reference falls flat if you’ve never read that poem (as you can see in some of the comments).

As you have noticed metaphors are often used to make abstract emotions (love, hate, lethargy) or events (aging, death) more concrete. They should both help and surprise the reader.

Metaphors can also be used to describe persons (or maybe pets). You can for example read how Bob Hicock describes a girl whose “collarbones were the shadows of bears” and a boy “whose eyes were lighthouses” in his poem “The Smiths as I understand them” (describing children with special need).
In many poems with metaphors the poet uses many metaphors. Often they may contradict each other, but I often find that contradictions add rather than detract from the imagery.

So to summarize: I want you to use metaphors (not similes). I want you to make an effort to be unique, if you have ever seen it written it might be a cliche or at worst it’s plagiary.

When you have written your poem, put a link directly to your post (not the blog itself) and then have fun reading the other poems and commenting how the metaphors affected you. Were they understandable or cryptic? Did it surprise you? Today we are here to teach and be taught.

Please leave a comment below and try to partake in the discussion.