Figurative Language--language using figures of speech (a way of

saying one thing and meaning another); in other words, language that cannot be taken literally (or should not be taken literally only).  Simile, metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, personification, apostrophe, are all forms of figurative language.


a.       Simile:  A figure of speech in which an explicit comparison is

made between two things essentially unlike.  The comparison is made explicit by the use of some such word or phrase as like, as, than, similar to, resembles, appears, or seems.


                                                          “The Guitarist Tunes Up”


                                                With what attentive courtesy he bent

                                                Over his instrument;

                                                Not as a lordly conqueror who could

                                                Command both wire and wood,

                                                But as a man with a loved woman might,

                                                Inquiring with delight

                                                What slight essential things she had to say

                                                Before they started, he and she, to play.


                                                                             -----Frances Cornford






What did we say to each other

                                                That we are as the deer

                                                Who walk single file

With heads highs

                                                With ears forward

                                                With eyes watchful

                                                With hooves always placed on firm ground

                                                In whose limbs there is latent flight


                                                                             --Scott Momaday



b.      Metaphor:  A figure of speech in which an implicit comparison

is made between two things usually unlike.  Doesn’t use connective words such as like or as. 


                                                                        “The Hound”


                                                          Life the hound


                                                          Comes at a bound

                                                          Either to rend me

                                                          Or to befriend me.

                                                          I cannot tell

                                                          The hound’s intent

                                                          Till he has sprung

                                                          At my bare hand

                                                          With teeth or tongue.

                                                          Meanwhile I stand

                                                          And wait the event.


                                                                   -----Robert Francis






                                                          I’m a riddle in nine syllables,

                                                          An elephant, a ponderous house,

                                                          A melon strolling on two tendrils.

                                                          O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!

                                                          This loaf’s big with it’s yeasty rising.

                                                          Money’s new-minted in this fat purse.

                                                          I’m a means, a stage, a cow in calf.

                                                          I’ve eaten a bag of green apples,

                                                          Boarded the train there’s no getting off.


                                                                   ---Sylvia Plath



c.  Metonymy and Synecdoche: Two common types of metaphor:


1.      Metonymy:  the use of something closely related for the

thing actually meant.

Ex:  In “Out, Out--,” Robert Frost uses metonymy when he describes an injured boy holding up his cut hand “as if  to keep / The life from spilling . . . .”  Literally he means to keep the blood from spilling.    


                                                2.  Synecdoche:  the whole is replaced by the part.

Ex:  Shakespeare uses synecdoche when he says that the cuckoo’s song is unpleasing  to a “married ear,” for he really means a married man.


d.  Personification:  A figure of speech in which human attributes

are given to an animal, an object, or a concept.                                                       

Ex:  When Keats describes autumn as a harvester “sitting careless on a granary floor” or “on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,” he is personifying a season.  Also, in the Dickinson poem mentioned earlier, Dickinson describes frost as a “blond assassin.”  As a result, she is personifying frost.



                                                                                    “The Wind”


                                                                        The wind stood up and gave a shout.

                                                                        He whistled on his fingers and


                                                                        Kicked the withered leaves about

                                                                        And thumped the branches with his hand


                                                                        And said he’d kill and kill and kill

                                                                        And so he will and so he will.



e.  Apostrophe: An address to a person or thing not literally



                                                                        “Western Wind”


                                                Western Wind, when wilt thou blow,

                                                The small rain down can rain?

                                                Christ!  if my love were in my arms,

                                                And I in my bed again!


                                                                             -----Anonymous (c. 1500)


                             f.  Overstatement(Hyperbole):  Statement containing exaggeration.

Ex:  Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”:  “An hundred years should go to praise / Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze, / Two hundred to adore each breast, / But thirty thousand to the rest” (13-16).


                                    g.  Understatement: Implying more than is said.

Ex:  Frost’s “Birches”:  One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.”—The end of the poem suggests that swinging on a birch tree is one of the most satisfying activities in the world.