What is an Extended Metaphor in Literature? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Extended Metaphor Definition
  • 1:22 Examples
  • 4:38 Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katie Surber

Katie has a Master's degree in English and has taught college level classes for ten years.

In this lesson, we will define extended metaphor and explain why an author may use it. We will then look at several different examples of extended metaphor used in poetry, including in Emily Dickinson's poem 'Hope Is the Thing With Feathers'.

Extended Metaphor Definition

In his 2003 Harvard Commencement Address, Will Ferrell said, 'I graduated from the University of Life, all right? I received a degree from the School of Hard Knocks. Our colors were black and blue, baby. I had office hours with the Dean of Bloody Noses, all right? I borrowed my class notes from Professor Knuckle Sandwich and his teaching assistant, Ms. Fat Lip Thahn Nguyen. That's the kind of school I went to for real, okay?'

While it may be obvious that Will Ferrell is practicing his comedy; it is also an example of extended metaphor. In his speech, Ferrell is comparing two unlike things, education and the 'School of Hard Knocks', to show that they are alike. He continues his comparison through several sentences to really show his audience what he means. By doing so, he is able to create stronger examples to help us understand his metaphor.

A metaphor, is a comparison between two unlike subjects. An extended metaphor is when an author uses a metaphor throughout a long passage or even an entire poem. An author would use an extended metaphor to create a clearer comparison between the two items. It also allows the audience to visualize an idea more clearly and can make something that may be complex a little more simple.

Examples of Extended Metaphors

William Shakespeare

Extended metaphor is found quite often in poetry. William Shakespeare used it in many of his plays. For example, in his play Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare writes: 'But Soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Juliet is the sun! Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, Who is already sick and pale with grief.' In these lines, Romeo is comparing Juliet to the sun, and he continues to do so through several lines. He even says the moon is jealous of her brightness.

In another one of his plays, As You Like It, Shakespeare writes, '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.' In this passage, Shakespeare is comparing living life to being in a play. In his example, he names all of us actors and our actions part of the play. We all play different parts throughout our lives.

Emily Dickinson

While some authors may use extended metaphor in several lines, other poets may use it throughout the entire poem. In her poem, 'Hope Is the Thing With Feathers', Emily Dickinson writes:

'Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune --without the words,

And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;

And sore must be the storm

That could abash the little bird

That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,

And on the strangest sea;

Yet, never, in extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.'

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