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Lesson Plan

Poetry and Metaphors, Similes, Personification, and Metonymies

Lesson Objectives

  • For students to be able to create their own metaphor or simile, personification, and metonymies in their own poem.
  • For students to be able to define and identify the following poetic devices in a poem: metaphor, simile, metonymy, and personification and write about their contribution creating meaning in a poem of their own making.

Definitions

A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a comparison is made between two unlike things. For example:

"Nature's first green is gold"

The tenor "first green" is compared to the vehicle "gold." The connotations of "gold" are scarce, precious, and valuable. This helps us see that, for the speaker, the first signs of life in spring are scarce, precious, and valuable.

A simile is an explicit comparison between two unlike things that uses "like," "as," "seems," or "resembles" to make the comparison. For example:

"I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high oe'r vales and hills."

Metonymy is a figure of speech in which some significant aspect or associated detail of an experience or object is used to represent the whole experience or object. It is always a comparison between whole and part, not two disparate wholes. For example:

"For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon the inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils."

—William Wordsworth, "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud"

Personification is a figure of speech that endows animals, ideas, abstractions, and inanimate objects with human characteristics. For example:

"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom friend of the maturing sun;"

Poetry Analysis

Let's take a look at how metaphor, simile, metonymy, and personification show up in the following poem:

The Writer

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.


Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.

But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which

The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.

I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash

And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark

And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,

And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again;
and how are spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,

It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.


It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.

—Richard Wilbur

Metaphors

  • The tenor of "stuff of her life" is the emotional, intellectual, and physical experience of the daughter. This is compared to the vehicle "heavy cargo" which connotes a heavy burden that needs to be unloaded at the nearest port. The port for the daughter writing the story is the blank page in front of her; she needs to write about the experiences of her life in order to understand them.
  • The "it" refers the comparison between the tenor—the daughter's ability to find inspiration to write another passage—and the vehicle—the bird's ability to find the open window. If the daughter does not write, then she will die emotionally and professionally; if the bird does not fly out, then it will die imprisoned in the room.
  • The tenor of the bird lifting off the chair back and passing over the "window sill" is compared to the vehicle of the daughter finding the right passage and overcoming her writer's block. Thus, both the bird and the daughter enter into the world they have been struggling to enter into. The mutual elation of the bird and daughter are strongly felt.
  • The tenor of another metaphor is the daughter experiencing writer's block, where the vehicle is the "trapped starling." As the bird hopes to find the right window and return to its home in nature, the daughter hopes to find the right words to express the "heavy cargo" of her life experiences on paper.

Extended Metaphors

Extended metaphors are those comparisons that are sustained throughout a literary work. For example:

  1. the house and the ship
  2. the daughter's life and the ship's journey
  3. the bird finding the open window and the daughter overcoming writer's block and finding inspiration to write another passage

Simile

  • The poet compares the sound of typewriter keys to a chain hauled over a gunwale on a ship. This develops the metaphor between the house and a ship even further. The lifting of the anchor by the chain allows the ship to move forward freely as overcoming writer's block allows the daughter to move forward in her writing.
  • The tenor "starling" is compared to the vehicle "glove" which drops to the hard floor. The image of the dropping glove enhances our perceptions of the battered starling dropping to the ground after hitting the window. The solid thump is more easily heard through the simile and the feelings of defeat are felt.

Metonymy

"Brilliance" is a detail of a window that is substituted for the window itself. It forces the reader to recognize the reflective sun on the window's glass, making the outside all the more alluring.

Personification

The house is personified as quiet, reflective, and pensive. This allows the reader to imagine that because the father and daughter are so lost in thought it seems as though the house is lost in thought as well.

Worksheet for Figurative Language in Poetry

Find the figurative language in the bolded lines below and write about how each use of figurative language works and how this contributes to your overall understanding of the poem.

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

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:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

—William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

Find an example for each use of figurative language below. Introduce the quotation, identify the poetic device, and explain how the example of figurative language contributes to your thesis statement about the poem.

Thesis statement:



1. Simile:



2. Simile:



3. Personification:



4. Metonymy:



Student assignment

In the Freestyle mode on PicLits.com, write a poem that has at least one metaphor or simile, personification, and metonymic phrase.

Write a brief paragraph on how the influence of the metaphor or simile, personification, and metonymic phrase assist the creation of your poem's meaning.

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