11 Best Extended Metaphor Examples: From Great Literature and Song

These examples of extended metaphors from song lyrics, poems, books, and plays will help you understand this literary device better.

A metaphor is a literary device that compares two, unlike things or concepts. Unlike similes, metaphors do not use the word “like” or “as” but rather compare the items using imagery and with a less direct comparison. Simple metaphors take just a sentence or two to make the comparison.

The purpose of a metaphor is to make it easier for readers to understand a key idea. They can also dramatically improve the readability of a piece of writing. All types of writers from authors to poets to playwrights use metaphors in their works to varying degrees. Some even create entire works around a single extended metaphor.

What Is An Extended Metaphor?

When an entire poem or literary work, (or large portions), is a metaphor, it is known as an extended metaphor. This type of figurative language can be engaging for the reader, drawing them in and helping them better understand the meaning of the work. Extended metaphors can have several purposes. Sometimes, the purpose is to get the reader to think about the characteristics of something by comparing it to something entirely different. Sometimes the purpose is to create a humorous connection. However, the end goal almost always is to create an emotional connection with the reader.

How Do I Write an Extended Metaphor?

Using a metaphor in your fiction, non-fiction and poetry is relatively easy. First, consider an idea you want to communicate to readers. Next, pick a seemingly unrelated ordinary object. Ideally, it’s something visual or everyday so readers can relate to it. Now, write down a list of what makes the idea and object distinct from each other. Next, write a second list of anything they may have in common. Write several sentences that link the concept and object.

You may need to contrast between them or hypothesize a relationship. Be creative. Finally, pick the extended metaphor that communicates your intention best. From poems to plays to short stories, here are some of the best examples of extended metaphors from classic and modern literature and music.

1. “Hope is the Thing with Feathers” by Emily Dickinson

Extended Metaphor Examples: “Hope is the Thing with Feathers” by Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson

In this poem, Dickinson compares hope to a little bird. She claims that it never stops singing to the soul, even when all seems full of despair. Because of the beautiful picture painted in the lines of verse, this poem is an example of an extended metaphor. Like many metaphor poems, it helps the reader truly understand her meaning, even when, in the end, she says hope never “asked a crumb of me.”

“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune – without words,
And never stops at all,
And the sweetest in the gale is heard;”

2. “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost

In this famous poem by Robert Frost, the speaker stands on the edge of a choice between two roads. While the poem appears to be about the speaker’s travels, in reality, he is talking about life choices, making it an extended metaphor. The fork in the road, the poem’s central image, is a pivotal decision faced in life, and the end of the poem discusses how influential one decision can be. You might also find these examples of tragic flaw in literature interesting.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;”

3. “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes

In “Mother to Son,” Hughes compares life to a crystal stair, indicating that its struggles are much more complex than climbing a crystal staircase. Instead, the struggles of life are like broken boards and splinters on an old, rugged wooden staircase.

“Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor –
Bare.
But all the time“

4. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

In the famous balcony scene in Shakespeare’s most iconic play, the playwright uses a metaphor to compare Juliet to the sun. Because the single metaphor continues for many lines through the monologue, it fits the definition of the extended metaphor.

“But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou her maid art far more fair than she:”

5. As You Like It by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare also uses a sustained metaphor in his play As You Like It. In Act II, Scene VII, his character Jaques launches into a monologue. It contains a metaphor comparing the world to a stage with actors upon it. The metaphor continues for many lines, so it fits the extended metaphor definition.

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;”

6. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In one particular passage of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald draws a parallel between the poor and ashes. Both are plentiful, and both grow into ridges and hills. Nevertheless, it paints a bleak picture of life for someone without income.

“This is a valley of ashes – a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of ash-grey men, who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.”

7. Seize the Night by Dean Koontz

In one part of Seize the Night, the narrator indicates his mind and imagination are like a 300-ring circus. However, he decides to stop and get a snack at ring 299. To keep the metaphor going, the snack is popcorn and soda, which you could easily find in a circus. If you like this example, check out our list of the best Dean Koontz books.

“Bobby Holloway says my imagination is a three-hundred-ring circus. Currently, I was in ring two hundred and ninety-nine, with elephants dancing and clowns cart wheeling and tigers leaping through rings of fire. The time had come to step back, leave the main tent, go buy some popcorn and a Coke, bliss out, cool down.”

8. “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Extended Metaphor Examples: “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr., via Wikimedia Commons

In his “I Have a Dream” speech, King compares the nation’s Constitution to a promissory note, and then alludes to the fact that prejudice means white people had failed to deliver on that debt. He continues the metaphor by talking about the “bankruptcy” of justice and the “insufficient funds” received by the black people of America.

“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

9. Havard University Commencement Address by Will Ferrell

When asked to speak to the graduating class of Harvard in 2003, comedian Will Ferrell used an extended metaphor to discuss his lack of education. Instead of commenting directly on this shortcoming, he compared his life’s knowledge to a university in his famous speech. Thankfully, he does not intend for the hearer to take his metaphor too seriously. For more examples like this, check out our list of metaphor examples for kids.

“I graduated from the University of Life. All right? I received a degree from the School of Hard Knocks. And our colors were black and blue, baby.”

10. “Firework” by Katy Perry

Song lyrics often contain extended metaphors, which is clearly seen in Katy Perry’s famous song “Firework.” In the stanzas of this song, she compares a human’s natural ability to come back from challenges to the spark of a firework.

“’Cause baby, you’re a firework
C’mon, show ’em what you’re worth
Make ’em go “Aah, aah, aah”
As you shoot across the sky
Baby, you’re a firework
C’mon, let your colors burst
Make ’em go, “Aah, aah, aah”
You’re gonna leave them all in awe, awe, awe.”

11. “O Captain! My Captain!” by Walt Whitman

This 1865 poem by Walt Whitman is about the assassination of US president Abraham Lincoln. It doesn’t mention Lincoln explicitly but the key ideas and imagery in the poem are drawn from his assassination and the impact of the death of a great leader on the United States of America. This extended metaphor poem also famously appeared in the 1989 film Dead Poet’s Society starring Robin Williams.   

O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
      But O heart! heart! heart!
            O the bleeding drops of red,
                  Where on the deck my Captain lies,
                        Fallen cold and dead.

If you’re looking for more inspiration, check out our list of great metaphors from literature.

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