The other night I started reading The Good Soldier, a novel by Ford Maddox Ford. In the introduction to the novel, Max Saunders says that “Ford may have dipped his pen in his heart’s blood to write it.” This was a very startling way of saying that Ford wrote the novel using his own unpleasant personal experiences. Did Ford ACTUALLY use his own blood to write? No. Saunders was expressing himself metaphorically. A metaphor is a comparison just like a simile is a comparison, but it does not use the words “like” or “as”. If Saunders had said that Ford wrote the novel like he was using his own blood to write, that would have been a simile. It still would have meant the same thing, but he uses a metaphor instead of a simile as a richer means of comparison. He compares a writer describing a painful experience to writing with his own blood. This is much stronger, much more striking.
Another way we can define a metaphor is that, instead of saying one thing is like another, a metaphor says that one thing IS another. Here are some examples:
…the soul is a captive, treated humanely…-John Ashberry
…a whole nation of eyeless men,
Dark bipeds not aware how they were maimed…-C.S. Lewis
We are the water, not the hard diamond,
the one that is lost, not the one that stands still.-Jorge Luis Borges
Of course, these are all comparisons, not actual facts. The men in the Lewis poem were not actually eyeless, but unaware of or unwilling to face a bad situation. In the Ashberry poem, the poet is describing the arresting quality of a portrait, and how anyone who looks at it cannot help but be enchanted and intrigued. And in the Borges poem, people are compared to water, always moving and changing, not standing still like a hard diamond.
As you can see, metaphor is a very rich and effective literary technique to use. Or, you could say, metaphor is a pile of gold in an ordinary sentence. I hope you will attempt to use some metaphors in your writing, and see how much richer your writing will become.
-Teresa Sari FitzPatrick