A metaphor happens when one image suggests another without using the word ‘like’. The best metaphor is a mere hint. It suggests the companion image with a single word.
Metaphor should trust us, allowing our imagination to work on the image to make the connection with a flash of touching wires. R.S.Thomas, in a poem about the cruelty of nature, writes of the stoat sipping from ‘the brimming rabbit’. One word, ‘brimming’, turns the rabbit into a vessel full of blood set before the stoat. It’s a wonderful metaphor, shocking and exciting.
Metaphor is used every day in spoken English, so no wonder poets use it without even thinking about it. Time flies. Snowdrops peep. Rain dances. You’re burning with rage. In fact, time has no wings, snowdrops have no eyes, rain has no feet, and you have a feeling inside you, not a fire. The thrilling thing about metaphor is that it fills ordinary language with colour. It haunts the way we talk, illuminates plain fact, and is the interesting part of everyday story telling.
Here is my poem about a snowy February day. It has a metaphor in almost every line.
My car has grown
a woolly cover, yours a crown.
The doormat’s disappeared.
The hedge has grown a beard.
The bin’s a cornet. Laurel leaves
are spoonfuls. Along the eaves
a row of glassy swords.
Starlings on the wires strumming chords.
Crocus strikes a match. Birds
print on the lawn their lines of words.
Trees wear fur. Wire has learned to knit.
Sheep aren’t white. Grubby as a clwt
in need of bleach, they’re at the gate,
waiting for hay and grumbling that we’re late.
Touch down and lift off, look, a crow’s
been making angels in the snow.
(clwt: Welsh, dishcloth)