by Carol Ann Duffy, Helen Taylor and Gillian Clarke
A metaphor happens when one image suggests another without using the word ‘like’, or a word that means ‘like’. In his wonderful poem, ‘The Wind’, about a very stormy night, Ted Hughes begins:
‘This house has been far out at sea all night’.
With just a few words he turns the house into a ship far out on a wild sea. He makes you feel you are not inside a house listening to the wind, but on board a boat tossed on a stormy sea.
Metaphor is used every day in spoken English, so it’s no surprise that 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, and makes us say ‘Yes!’ as we recognise the connection.
Here are two poems by year 5 and 6 pupils, and one by Gillian Clarke. The children wrote their poems when Gillian Clarke visited their school and taught them a game she invented. It’s called The Metaphor Game.
Read the poems to the class before explaining metaphor. Then read the essay below, and help them to understand metaphor. Then one of the children could be asked to read the first poem to the class.
The subject of the children’s poems is different kinds of weather. They had to choose something to do with weather, and then to think about what that kind of weather is like.
The Storm Horses
Lightning, thunder coming.
It is here.
Then lightning crashes,
listen, listen, listen.
Footsteps of horses,
louder and louder.
Look! Horses are coming
from the grey sky.
They are beating hard,
galloping on the grey clouds.
They rear and strike the earth
with forked lightning.
They are beating the rain
out of the clouds.
by Lisa Shan Jones aged 10.
The second is a group poem by Year 5.
A twisting, twirling mane
in the spirit of the wind.
Soft and grey,
a part of nature.
It gallops through the woods
on thundering feet.
Its hooves are pearl,
its tail is silver.
Rain trots down the village street
into the glittering meadows,
it snuffles through the leaves
and plods down country lanes.
Rain sparkles as it runs.
It emerges from the mud,
softly slows down,
Now at the gallop again
shining on a distant hill
till slowly its whinny fades.
It disappears, water spraying at its hooves.
Now I can hear only
a whooshing sound in the air,
a click-clacking on the road
skipping to its destiny.
I hear it no more
Those two poems both compared the weather with just one thing: a creature. A horse. They thought just about the horse, and put the other subject, (storm, and rain) completely out of mind. Now here is Gillian Clarke’s poem about a snowy February day. It has different 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)
All three poems put together things that are LIKE each other but they don’t use the word ‘like’.
- Is ‘The Storm Horse’ about a horse, or a storm?
- Is ‘The Rain’ about rain, or a horse?
The title suggests it will be just about rain, but it too makes us see and hear a horse.
- What two things are in the mind of Year 5 as they call out their lines to make the poem?
- Is this a good way to think about and to describe a storm, or rain, or anything?
Gillian Clarke’s title is the name of the last month of winter.
- What is the real subject of the poem?
- What are we seeing?
- Why is the car wearing a woolly cover?
- When does a car wear a crown?
Ask about every image in the poem ( I count 12 metaphors and one simile), all of them clues to solving the riddle. The subject of the poem is revealed only when you reach the very last word. Now ask if anyone in the class know how to make angels in the snow. How can a crow make angels?
(Just in case you don’t know, you lie down in the snow with your arms spread out, then you lift and let fall your arms a little closer to your body every time, until they are by your side. Then you have to get up without spoiling the pattern of angel wings you’ve made in the snow. The crow just touched down and brushed the snow to make the pattern.)
Get the children to:
- Find as many poems about snow, or any other weather, as possible.
- Compare the ways in which those poets describe the weather.
- Find poems about enjoying being out in all sorts weather.
- Get them to write their own poem about the pleasure and pain of being out in the rain, very hot sun, strong wind, falling snow. Make it real. Use metaphor to make it vivid.
- Play the Metaphor Game with the class. Here is how to do it:
THE METAPHOR GAME
In a class discussion about, for example, weather, choose a subject. Let’s say they choose snow. Now, ask the class questions such as:
- If it had a beating heart what would snow be?
- If it had wings and could fly what would snow be?
- If it kept you warm at night, what would snow be?
- If it sailed overhead in the sky what would snow be?
- If a film star could wear it what would snow be?
- If it sparkled in the night sky what would snow be?
- If it were a cruel person, who would snow be?
- If it were a powerful ruler, who would snow be?
- If it were a mythical creature, what would snow be?
- If it were a heavenly creature, who would it be?
And so on, as many questions as you can think of. You can lead the children in certain directions by your choice of questions. Let them give lots of answers.
Select one of the ideas. Let’s say that in answer to question 2 someone suggests a swan. Then ask the class to call out, hands up, no shouting, everything they want to say about a swan. Forget snow. Think only of the swan. I try to get every child to contribute at least one word or phrase. The result could be ‘sheer poetry’!
Finally, each child can make their own metaphor poem about the subject of their choice.
Look for James Reeves’ ‘The Sea’. It is a good example.