The sky on a clear day is like the inside of a huge balloon swelling up, up, up into space. My cat is a wisp of smoke that slips between the gap in the fence on a cold morning. What do both of these sentences have in common? They use the wonderful tools of metaphors and similes to craft images.
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Metaphors and similes both compare two things. The original thing that’s being described is called the “subject” of the metaphor or simile, and what the original is being compared to is the “object.” Poets use metaphors and similes to compare two very different things that we wouldn’t normally think of together, in order to bring up new ideas and surprising observations.
Now that we know their similarities, here are the differences:
Metaphor: compares two things directly without using “like” or “as”; the subject IS the object. Metaphors are more direct than similes, which can make them seem stronger or more surprising. Example: The sunrise this morning was an ocean of honey dusted with powdered sugar.
Simile: compares two things by saying they are “like” each other; the subject IS LIKE the object. Similes remind us that a comparison is being made, which sometimes makes them easier to understand and follow. Example: Falling in love feels like a thousand crickets jumping around in my chest.
Below are some examples of poems that use an overall metaphor or simile throughout the poem. For some teatime fun, try spotting the metaphors and similes in the following poems!
A Red, Red Rose
By Robert Burns
O my Luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.
So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.
Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.
And fare thee weel, my only luve!
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my luve,
Though it were ten thousand mile.
By Langston Hughes
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
“Hope” is the thing with feathers
By Emily Dickinson
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
Paint chip poetry: pick up paint chips at your local Walmart or paint store. Describe the color of your paint chip using metaphors or similes. Inspiration: this activity from Fabulous in Fifth.
Metaphor and simile poem: If you have older kids who are up for the challenge of writing their own poem, try this prompt from Miss Rumphius Effect. For more examples, check out A Year of Reading and Wild Rose Reader.
Metaphor Mad Libs: The Poetry Foundation has a wonderful post on learning about metaphor, simile, and other types of figurative language. If you scroll down, there is a fun Mad Libs activity to try! You could even create your own Mad Libs with blanks for some wild and creative comparisons!
Other Links & Resources
List of children’s books with similes and metaphors (not all poetry) from The Best Children’s Books
A wonderful list of examples of metaphor poems for kids from Love to Know
List of books with figurative language from This Reading Mama
My Heart is Like a Zoo, by Michael Hall
Hello, Harvest Moon, by Ralph Fletcher
My Best Friend is Sharp as a Pencil, by Hanoch Pavin
Skin like Milk, Hairs of Silk, by Brian P. Cleary
Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen
My School’s a Zoo!, by Stu Smith
Dirty Laundry Pile: Poems in Different Voices, by Paul Janeczko
It Figures!: Fun Figures of Speech, by Marvin Terban