A metaphor is another form of imagery. A metaphor is a less direct way of comparing two things. Instead of using like or as, a metaphor says that one thing is another. Here’s an example.

Pablo Picasso painting: a cubist rendition of a woman in browns and greens.

Source: Pablo Picasso’s cubist rendition of a woman in browns and greens; photograph by G. Lanting, Wikimedia Commons

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.

—Pablo Picasso

Let’s analyze this metaphor. Picasso says that art washes the soul, but the soul can’t literally get dusty, and art isn’t water. We know that art can’t literally wash anything, but if we think about how art enriches our lives, lives that are often mundane and automatic, then perhaps we can imagine that when we experience art, we "dust" off our souls in the same way we might dust an unused table. In this way we come to life again through art. Art metaphorically washes the soul.

Let’s look at another metaphor.

The world is a book and those who don’t travel have only read one page.

—St. Augustine

A photograph from below of a decorated, painted temple, a tall building covered in statues and decorations. It seems dwarfed by the what might be the mouth of a cave or extinct volcano overhead, a tunnel leading into sunlight, draped with vines and trees.

Source: “Temple Deep in the Caves,” Stuck in Customs, Flickr

St. Augustine is telling his readers that travel is important. Why should they believe him? One answer is because he presents an image of a person reading only one page of a book and being finished with it. What a pointless act that would be! The image illustrates exactly how important St. Augustine believes travel is for knowing about the world.

Let’s analyze one last metaphor, this one from President Barack Obama’s 2012 State of the Union speech.

As long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, and our future is hopeful, and the state of our Union will always be strong.

—Barack Obama, 2012 State of the Union Speech

In this the closing of his speech, President Obama compares life as an American to a journey. It enables the audience to understand the time it takes for things to change in the country. It is a powerful metaphor in politics because it presents policies as a purposeful activity (you travel to a destination) which requires time and patience. The idea of a journey also evokes freedom.

Now practice identifying similes and metaphors. For each phrase that appears, choose “metaphor” or “simile” from the pull-down menu.

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