Metaphor is arguably the most ubiquitous and layered of literary devices. Expressing images, emotions, actions, experiences, and nuances through direct and indirect comparisons, metaphors enrich a text and reveal the deeper significance of what is being described.
However, practicing this in the classroom can be a challenge. Which texts should you work with? Which examples best show the writer’s use of metaphor?
At eNotes, we’re committed to providing you with quality classroom activities to help you and your students expand your appreciation of literary texts. That’s why we’re now offering metaphor activities, in addition to our lesson plans, as part of our Teacher Subscription.
Each activity gives your students opportunities to examine and analyze metaphors from specific texts. We provide examples of metaphors from each play, poem, or short story for your students to examine and analyze. (And we also include an answer key!)
We’ll continue to create more in the future, but for now, enjoy these 31 metaphor activities to use in your classroom.
In “Anthem for Doomed Youth,” Wilfred Owen’s descriptive imagery and evocative metaphors praise soldiers’ sacrifices and condemn the destructive nature of war. Owen conveys his themes through metaphorical language.
James Joyce’s “Araby” employs a rich array of metaphors to convey the young protagonist’s evolving experiences of delight, desire, and disenchantment as he resolves to go to the market at Araby to find a gift for a girl he fancies.
John Donne wrote this poem for his wife, Anne, shortly before leaving the country. Donne describes their unflagging marital bond with elaborate metaphors of death, astronomy, alchemy, gilding, and the sweeping movements of a drafting compass.
One of Herman Melville’s best-known works, “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street” follows the tale of an enigmatic copyist named Bartleby, drawing on an eclectic range of metaphors to render this surreal Wall Street parable.
“Because I Could Not Stop for Death” is one of Emily Dickinson’s signature poems. Dickinson uses unforgettable metaphors to approach her weighty subject matter—the speaker’s carriage ride with Death—with style and subtlety.
Throughout John Keats’s sonnet “Bright Star!,” the speaker uses metaphors to engage his environment, activating the stars, sea, and snow as actors in his interior drama as he expresses his desire to be as unchanging and eternal as the north star.
Matthew Arnold penned “Dover Beach” while on honeymoon with his wife, and, indeed, the speaker of the poem addresses his “love” as he looks out over the shores of Dover, employing a range of metaphorical language to portray his vision of a desolate, unimaginable future.
Arguably the finest elegy in English literature, Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” uses metaphor to describe the setting, to contrast the lives of the poor with those of the rich and powerful, and to depict death as a shared experience.
At first glance, Christina Rossetti’s poem “Goblin Market” takes the form of a cautionary tale for children. However, Rossetti’s use of metaphorical language intimates deeper meanings to be gleaned from this fairy-tale parable about a walk in the woods that takes an uncanny turn.
In act I, scene III of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Banquo and Macbeth hear the witches’ prophecy and are left to discuss what happened after the witches depart, using a wide range of metaphors to make sense of the prophecies and the revelation that Macbeth is now the Thane of Cawdor.
Katherine Mansfield’s short story “Miss Brill” unfolds as a stream of Miss Brill’s consciousness, employing metaphors that offer insight into her character and hint at just how deeply she longs for a connection to those around her.
In John Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” the speaker studies the figures and scenes painted along the sides of an ancient Greek urn. The richness and subtlety of Keats’s metaphors convey a connection to what is truly timeless in human life.
John Keats describes the relationship between sadness and joy in “Ode on Melancholy.” Keats’s metaphors express how melancholy leads to experiences of both joy and beauty, suggesting the necessary role of sorrow in life.
“Ode to a Nightingale” follows the thoughts of Keats’s speaker as he struggles with the burden of mortality, seeking strategies to cope with it—oblivion, revelry, poetic bliss—through rich, often allusive metaphors that convey his flights of imagination and storms of emotion.
From the first stanza, Amy Lowell’s “Patterns” follows a conceit—her restrictive dress and the stifling social conventions of her milieu confine her life to a specific pattern—and employs descriptive metaphors to expound upon her narrator’s emotions.
Shakespeare’s best-known poems are his 154 sonnets, the majority of which focus on the speaker’s love for a young man. Against this backdrop, the speaker in Sonnet 60 develops vivid metaphors to confront the destructive and intractable force of time.
Edna St. Vincent Millay’s 1921 poem “Spring” turns the typical pastoral poem on end with its unsentimental attitude, conveying its themes and dark humor through memorable metaphors such as “April / Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.”
In “Spring-Watching Pavilion,” Ho Xuan Huong takes up one of her essential themes: the critique of organized religion. Huong uses vivid metaphors to convey the ubiquity and futility of religions, whose wave-like bells render “heaven upside-down in sad puddles.”
Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” follows the titular Rip as he wanders off into the woods, falls into a deep sleep, and awakens twenty years later. Irving brings his full facility for metaphor to enrich his descriptions of the landscapes and the lively people who inhabit them.
Thomas Hardy’s “The Darkling Thrush” is a poem about historical change, and the speaker uses metaphors to imbue the scenery with deeper historical and cultural implications as he stares out at a barren winter landscape.
Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” is built on metaphors, particularly that of the “House of Usher,” which refers to the house itself and to the family therein. As the narrator observes, the Ushers’ descent into madness mirrors the decay and collapse of the estate around them.
Moore’s “The Fish” employs startling images, rich metaphors, and original verse forms to draw unexpected connections and push our imaginations into fresh territory. The speaker inspects a tidal scene, studying the marine life and the surf with a curiosity tinged with melancholy.
Katherine Mansfield brings subtle layers of metaphor and nuance into all of her work, and “The Garden Party” is characteristically imbued with well-crafted metaphors that display Mansfield’s breadth of knowledge and sharpness of eye.
Chekhov’s short story “The Lady with the Pet Dog” is a love story about two unhappily married people who find one another while on vacation in Yalta. After Anna leaves, Gurov can’t keep her out of his mind, employing metaphors to express his feelings about the affair and his love for Anna.
T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” uses metaphors to transform the streets of London into an unsettling dreamscape where evening is an “etherised patient” and fog is a prowling yellow cat.
Wordsworth’s five Lucy poems focus on the speaker’s love for a beautiful young English woman and employ numerous elements of Romanticism, including expressive metaphors that emphasize Lucy’s beauty, the beauty of nature, and the presence of death.
Herman Melville’s humorous poem teases and satirizes a shark, using metaphor to bring an imaginative and sardonic voice to the speaker’s critique of the shark’s monstrous appearance, laziness, and lack of intelligence.
Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “The Moon” is a lyrical description of the rising moon that uses metaphor to convey the moon’s dissatisfaction and restlessness as it roams the heavens, ultimately failing to acquire a distinct identity or end its searching.
“The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant depicts the life of a charming young woman who dreams of luxuries beyond her means. Maupassant laces the short story with metaphors that bring the characters—their desires, misunderstandings, and struggles—to life.
In “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge weaves a fantastic tale that features a series of dramatic events, many of them eerie and supernatural. Coleridge’s poem employs striking imagery and metaphor to depict the events that forever change the mariner’s life.
“The Tell-Tale Heart” features many of the Poe’s signature elements—a gothic setting, a deranged narrator, and a suspenseful plot—to create a sense of horror. As the narrator’s hallucinations take hold, Poe’s use of metaphor emphasizes the narrator’s insanity and the uncanny atmosphere in which the plot unfolds.