Are you looking for famous metaphor poems? Along with the simile, this is one of the most common types of figurative language. Learn more about how an extended metaphor can impact poetry.
You probably learned all about the most common types of metaphors in high school. Metaphors are a commanding literary vehicle for communicating powerful messages. The use of metaphors in poems can be a powerful way to communicate certain messages to the reader. Different similes and metaphors work well in different poems. For example, some metaphors might communicate challenges the character overcomes, while others might focus on interactions with nature.
William Shakespeare, Langston Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson: many famous poets throughout history have used metaphor and simile poems to impact the readers. Take a look at a few of the top examples of metaphor poems below.
- 1. The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
- 2. As You Like It by William Shakespeare
- 3. The Sun Rising by John Donne
- 4. Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare
- 5. The Poison Tree by William Blake
- 6. When I Have Fears by John Keats
- 7. Hope’ Is The Thing With Feathers by Emily Dickinson
- 8. Metaphors by Sylvia Plath
- 9. I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wadsworth
- 10. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas
- 11. Mother to Son by Langston Hughes
- 12. Sonnet 4 by William Shakespeare
- 13. Death Be Not Proud by John Donne
- 14. Caged Bird by Maya Angelou
- 15. Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath
- 16. The Black Snake by Mary Oliver
- 17. Be Nobody’s Darling by Alice Walker
- Final Word on The Usage of Metaphor In Poems
- FAQs About Metaphor In Poems
1. The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
Robert Frost is one of the most studied poets in all of history. One of his most famous works is called The Road Not Taken. The poem opens with the line, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” Yes, it is possible to interpret this poem literally. However, as the poem unfolds, it becomes obvious that this line is a metaphor for someone trying to make a difficult decision. The metaphor creates a powerful image for the reader, showing someone literally trying to make a difficult decision by comparing it to a walk in the woods.
“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.”
2. As You Like It by William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare is one of the most important literary figures of all time. He produced countless written works, including numerous plays and poems. In his famous play, As You Like It, there is a specific line where the main character, Jaques, says, “all the word is a stage. All men and women are merely players.” In this line, Shakespeare compares the world to a giant stage. The main character goes on to elaborate on the reason behind this comparison. This is one of the most famous examples of metaphors in poems in all of literature.
“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,”
3. The Sun Rising by John Donne
John Donne is a famous poet known for his use of metaphors. One of his most famous poems is called The Sun Rising. In the story, the speaker communicates with the sun. He tells the sun that the most important thing in the world to him is his lover. He states, “she’s all states and all princes.” In this poem, he compares his lover to every ruler and every country in the world. He uses this comparison to emphasize his lover’s importance to him.
“Busy old fool, unruly sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?”
4. Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare
Here is another famous work by William Shakespeare. The first line of this poem is “shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” This is one of Shakespeare’s most famous lines. Because it does not use “like” or “as,” it is a metaphor. He compares someone to a summer’s day, which is usually seen as a compliment. The goal is to communicate that the target of the dialogue will remain beautiful for many years. Looking for more famous poems, check out our list of Mary Oliver poems.
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,”
5. The Poison Tree by William Blake
Based on the title, you probably think the work is about a tree that has been poisoned or is poisoning other people; however, as The Poison Tree unfolds, it is evident that it is not meant to be taken literally. The story compares wrath, anger, and revenge to something you can grow and nurture. These emotions are also compared to a person who can listen to what is happening. As a result, this is one of the most powerful examples of metaphors in literature.
“And into my garden stole,
When the night had veild the pole;
In the morning glad I see;
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.”
6. When I Have Fears by John Keats
John Keats is one of the most prolific authors but also suffered a tremendous tragedy. His poem, When I Heave Fears, contains numerous metaphors related to life and death. He writes about shadows following him with magic hands of chance, creating a powerful image through his symbolic use of life and death following him as he goes throughout his life. Even though the poem is not explicitly about him, it is widely believed that the poem is about the tragedies he has suffered in his life.
“When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows with the magic hand of chance”
7. Hope’ Is The Thing With Feathers by Emily Dickinson
Hope is one of the most famous works by Emily Dickinson, one of the top female authors of all time. Even though the poem is vague, she compares hope to something resembling a bird. The poem states that it perches in the soul, sings a tune without words, and has feathers. It is a powerful poem that creates vivid imagery and uses intense symbolism to communicate its theme. It’s a good example of an extended metaphor.
“Hope is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all”
8. Metaphors by Sylvia Plath
Given the name of the poem, it is obvious that it contains a lot of metaphors; however, Metaphors is not literally about metaphors, which is a bit ironic. Throughout the poem, she compares her pregnancy to an elephant, a melon, a red fruit, a loaf of some sort, and a fat purse. She even compares herself to a cow when she gets close to the end. It doesn’t exactly create a favorable picture of pregnancy, but it is an effective use of metaphors.
“I’m a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.”
9. I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wadsworth
The poem I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud opens with a simile; however, further comparisons are metaphors. For example, he talks about daffodils dancing in the breeze and tossing their heads. This is not meant to be taken literally, but it is an important flower metaphor. There are numerous other metaphors throughout the poem that discuss nature. Do you want to know what is stream of consciousness poetry? Check out our guide to stream of consciousness poetry.
“The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:”
10. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas
Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night is a powerful, frequently quoted poem by Dylan Thomas. When he was talking about that good night, he is not talking about the literal setting of the sun. Instead, he uses this as a metaphor for old age. It can also be interpreted as discussing blindness or darkness of the soul. Even though the poem can be interpreted literally, as the various lines unfold, it is obvious it is meant to be a powerful metaphor.
“And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
11. Mother to Son by Langston Hughes
African-American poet Langston Hughes compares a mother’s life to a staircase she must climb. This extended metaphor comments on the dangers she must navigate through comparisons to splinters, missing boards, and tacks sticking up. You might also be interested in our life of thought-provoking metaphors about life.
“Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor–
12. Sonnet 4 by William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare is renowned for his colorful use of figurative language. Some of the most enduring and famous metaphors we use today originated in his work. In Sonnet 4, he bemoans the frivolity of young people, comparing them using their beauty in their younger years to someone who spends money unwisely. He further compares youthful beauty to a loan that must be repaid in the form of creating a valuable legacy. The warning comes in the first four lines, and is expanded upon through the rest of the poem:
“Unthrifty loveliness, why dost thou spend
Upon thy self thy beauty’s legacy?
Nature’s bequest gives nothing, but doth lend,
And being frank she lends to those are free:”
13. Death Be Not Proud by John Donne
John Donne’s poetry alternates between spiritual musings and cleverly constructed bits about physical life. In this poem, he compares death to a swaggering male braggart:
“Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not some,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me”
14. Caged Bird by Maya Angelou
Birds are a frequent subject of metaphor poems. In Caged Bird, Angelou talks about the differences in the behavior of free birds versus ones trapped in cages. This is a metaphor for her own personal feelings of powerlessness and oppression that she experienced growing up in Stamps, Arkansas. She expands on the metaphor further in the autobiography that takes its name from a line in the poem:
“The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.”
15. Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath
In this wry poem, Plath uses the story of Lazarus, who came back from the dead, as a metaphor for her repeated suicide attempts. There are a number of additional metaphors within the poem. She variously compares herself to a cat with nine lives, her skin tone to a Nazi lampshade, and the people around her to a crowd of spectators munching peanuts.
“I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it——
A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot
My face a featureless, fine
Jew linen. “
16. The Black Snake by Mary Oliver
American poet Mary Oliver often looked to the natural world to find examples she could link to everyday concerns, both mundane and metaphysical. In The Black Snake, she recounts the emotions she felt witnessing a black snake crushed by a truck on the highway.
In a series of similes, she compares the snake to an old bicycle tire, a braided whip, and a dead brother. However, she turns to metaphor when she recounts the warring feelings of the inevitability of death and our sense that it won’t come for us. Our justifications are compared to bright light:
reason burns a brighter fire, which the bones
have always preferred.
It is the story of endless good fortune.
It says to oblivion: not me!
It is the light at the center of every cell.
It is what sent the snake coiling and flowing forward
happily all spring through the green leaves before
he came to the road.”
17. Be Nobody’s Darling by Alice Walker
Alice Walker spent much of her early life feeling discounted and unvalued. Her parents were told that, as Black children, she and her brother did not need a formal education. Later on, an accident scarred her and blinded her in one eye. In Be Nobody’s Darling, Walker reflects on the benefits of being an outcast. She compares the status to a protective shawl that parries stones (insults and hardships) and keeps you warm:
“Be nobody’s darling;Alice Walker
Be an outcast.
Take the contradictions
Of your life
And wrap around
You like a shawl,
To parry stones
To keep you warm.”
Final Word on The Usage of Metaphor In Poems
These are a few examples of powerful metaphors from poetry and literature. You have probably studied numerous types of poetry on various worksheets throughout your education and have even tried to use metaphors in your own poetry.
Metaphors are used throughout multiple types of poems to compare two things creatively. For example, metaphors could be used to bring nature to life, describe obstacles the narrator must address, or evoke feelings of incredible emotion. Metaphors are a powerful way to communicate important messages to the reader.
Some of the most talented writers of all time have gotten incredibly creative with their use of metaphors in poems. It’s common to find poems using metaphors. So if you want to find more poetry metaphors, check out our guide how to analyze a poem.
FAQs About Metaphor In Poems
What is the difference between a metaphor and a simile?
Both a metaphor and a simile are used to draw a comparison between two things. A metaphor is a literary tool that compares without using like or as. A simile makes a direct comparison using like or as.
Why do poets like to use metaphors in their poems?
Even though it is possible to make a statement directly, it is frequently more powerful to use a metaphor. A metaphor can create a vivid image in the reader’s mind, causing them to connect with the poem on a deeper level.