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Lesson Plan

The Anatomy of Metaphor and Simile

Lesson Objective

For students to be able to create their own similes and metaphors in their own poems. For students to be able to identify similes and metaphors, break the comparison down into a tenor and a vehicle, and explain how the vehicle helps one understand the tenor in a new way. For students to be able to write about how similes and metaphors influence the meaning of a poem.

Definitions

Tenor: the implicit or explicit subject of the comparison, the starting point, that which is to be compared to something else

Vehicle (in simile or metaphor): the object of the comparison, the image or idea that the subject of the metaphor (the tenor) is compared to in order to understand the tenor in a new way

Example in Metaphor

Metaphor: Nature's first green is gold
Tenor: Nature's first green
Vehicle: gold

Explication of Tenor and Vehicle

Although we associate new life in spring with green, Nature's first signs of life in spring are gold flowers or gold buds, not green leaves. By boldly asserting that the tenor "green," metononymic for all vegetative life, is the vehicle "gold," the speaker forces us to recognize this seeming paradox. Also, the vehicle "gold" helps the reader see that the tenor, the first signs of life in spring, is precious for its scarcity.

Example in Simile

"Mind in its purest play is like some bat
That beats about in caverns all alone."
–Richard Wilbur

Tenor: Mind in its purest play
Vehicle: bat/ That beats about in caverns all alone

Explication of Tenor and Vehicle

In the way that a bat uses extra-sensory perception to navigate its way through the dark caverns of a cave, the mind uses its imagination in "its purest play" to alter or go beyond perception in order find its way through the often dark and bleak aspects of reality. The vehicle of a bat confidently fluctuating through the dark cave without hitting any walls helps envision the cocksure, fluctuating movements of the imaginative mind as a means of survival.

Example in Implicit Metaphor

Implicit metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things in which the tenor is not specified, but is implied by the vehicle. For example:

"The reed was too frail to survive the storm of its sorrows."

Implicit tenor: a human
Vehicle: reed
Explicit tenor: sorrows
Vehicle: storm

Explication of Tenor and Vehicle


The vehicle, a "frail reed," is compared to an implied tenor, a person whose "sorrows" are too much for him to endure. The image of a reed battered by the wind and rain of an unrelenting storm accurately captures the hopeless emotions associated with human despair, depression, and desperation.

Example in Metaphor of Multiple Vehicles

"Eye, gazelle, delicate wanderer,
Drinker of horizon's fluid line."
–Stephen Spender
Tenor: Eye
Vehicles: Gazelle, Delicate wanderer, Drinker of horizon's fluid line

Explication of Tenor and Vehicle

As the vehicle, "the gazelle," prances over the landscape, the tenor, "the eye," moves effortlessly from object to object. The vehicle, "a delicate wanderer," forces the reader to perceive the eye as a nomad, aimlessly traveling the landscape, without harmful intent. Finally, the vehicle, "drinker of horizon's fluid line," suggests that the tenor,” the eye," is thirsty, insatiable, and yearning for fulfillment. All three tenors help present the eye as effortless, aimless, and desiring--three details implicit in the comparison.

Worksheet on Tenor and Vehicle

In the following poem, there is one simile and one metaphor in bold type.

  • Break down each metaphor into its tenor and vehicle.
  • Explain how the vehicle of each metaphor makes you see the tenor in a new way. (explain the metaphor using the tenor and the vehicle)
She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways

She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
A Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:

A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
—Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.


She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and, oh,
The difference to me!

–William Wordsworth, 1799

1. Metaphor:



2. Simile:



Quiz on Tenor and Vehicle

Directions: In the following poem, there are SIX metaphors (two metaphors in the last line).

  • Identify and copy four metaphors.
  • Break down each metaphor into its tenor and vehicle.
  • Explain how the vehicle of each metaphor makes you see the tenor in a new way (explain the metaphor using the tenor and the vehicle).

Praise in Summer

Obscurely yet most surely called to praise,
As summer sometimes calls us all, I said
The hills are heavens full of branching ways
Where star-nosed moles fly overhead the dead;
I said the trees are mines in air, I said
See how the sparrow burrows in the sky!
And then I wonder why this mad instead
Perverts our praise to uncreation, why
Such savor's in this wrenching things awry.
Does sense so stale that it must needs derange
The world to know it? To a praiseful eye
Should it not be enough of fresh and strange
That trees grow green, and moles can course in clay,
And sparrows sweep the ceiling of our day?

Additional questions

  1. Define tenor, vehicle, and implicit metaphor.
  2. What is the relationship between the sky and the earth in this poem?
  3. What does the speaker mean by "this mad instead"?
  4. How does the poet want to see the world?
  5. In relation to the metaphorical language in the last line, is the poet's goal attained? Why / Why not?

Student Assignment

In either the Drag and Drop mode or the Freestyle mode of PicLits.com, write a poem that has at least one metaphor or simile. Write a brief paragraph on how the breakdown of the metaphor or simile helps the creation of your poem’s meaning.

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