Category Archives: Poetry


Introduction to Metaphors and Similes

What is a metaphor?  Probably the simplest way to define it is to use one.  We use metaphors and similes every day, often without realizing it:

This house is a zoo – beehive of activity                     

Now we’re getting to the heart of the matter – now we’re getting to the sore spot

Your words are music to my ears – your words are bitter medicine.

Some are spending their time poorly – Time waits for no one.

What do all of these have in common?

In each one of these, we have described something by comparing it.

Continue reading Metaphor

Literary Techniques

Alliteration: the repetition of the same sound at the beginning of a word, such as the repetition of sounds in “bag and baggage,” “bed and board,” “primrose path,” and “through thick and thin” and in sayings like “look before you leap.”  There are also specialized terms for other sound-repetitions. Consonance repeats consonants, but not the vowels, as in horror-hearer. Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds, These indeed seem.

Allusion: a reference to a person, event, place, or phrase. The writer assumes will the reader will recognize the reference.  For instance, most of us would know the difference between a person being as reliable as George Washington or as reliable as Benedict Arnold.  Allusions that are commonplace for readers in one era may require footnotes for readers in a later time.

Ambiguity: a statement which has two or more possible meanings or whose meaning is unclear.  Writers often use it to reflect the complexity of an issue or to indicate the difficulty, perhaps the impossibility, of determining truth.  Many of Hamlet’s statements to the King, to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and to other characters are deliberately ambiguous, to hide his real purpose from them.

Double Entendre:

Irony: the discrepancy between what is said and what is meant, what is said and what is done, what is expected or intended and what happens, what is meant or said and what others understand. Sometimes irony is classified into types: in situational irony, expectations aroused by a situation are reversed; in cosmic irony or the irony of fate, misfortune is the result of fate, chance, or God; in dramatic irony. the audience knows more than the characters in the play, so that words and action have additional meaning for the audience; Socractic irony is named after Socrates’ teaching method, whereby he assumes ignorance and openness to opposing points of view which turn out to be (he shows them to be) foolish..
Sarcasm is one kind of irony; it is praise which is really an insult; sarcasm generally involves malice, the desire to put someone down, e.g., “This is my brilliant son, who failed out of college.””

Satire is the exposure of the vices or follies of an individual, a group, an institution, an idea, a society, etc., usually with a view to correcting it. Satirists frequently use irony.

Figurative language changes the literal meaning, to make a meaning fresh or clearer, to express complexity.  Figurative language is also called figures of speech. The most common figures of speech are these:

A simile: a comparison of two dissimilar things using “like” or “as”, e.g., “my love is like a red, red rose”

A metaphor: a comparison of two dissimilar things which does not use “like” or “as,” e.g., “my love is a red, red rose.”

Personification: treating abstractions or inanimate objects as human, that is, giving them human attributes, powers, or feelings, e.g., “nature wept” or “the wind whispered many truths to me.”

Hyperbole: exaggeration, often extravagant; it may be used for serious or for comic effect.

Apostrophe: a direct address to a person, thing, or abstraction, such as “O Western Wind,” or “Ah, Sorrow, you consume us.”

Onomatopoeia: a word whose sounds seem to duplicate the sounds they describe–hiss, buzz, bang, murmur, meow, growl.

Oxymoron: a statement with two parts which seem contradictory; examples: sad joy, a wise fool, the sound of silence, or Hamlet’s saying, “I must be cruel only to be kind” or “crafty madness”.

Paradox: a statement whose two parts seem contradictory yet make sense with more thought. Christ used paradox in his teaching: “They have ears but hear not.”  Or in ordinary conversation, we might use a paradox, “Deep down he’s really very shallow.”