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5.4 Identifying and interpreting extended metaphors

3 min readjanuary 28, 2023

ChristineLing

ChristineLing


AP English Literature 📚

145 resources
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Introduction

Welcome to the last part of Unit 5! Today, we’ll look at metaphors in depth. We’ll learn all about what extended metaphors are, how to identify them, and the effect they can have on readers’ interpretation of poems.
This will most likely be a new concept to you if you haven’t studied poem analysis in any of your English classes yet. There will be a Test Yourself exercise to ensure you understand this concept, in addition to tips sprinkled throughout to pay attention to.
Let’s get started! 

Refresher on Metaphors

First, let’s get a refresher on what a “regular” metaphor is. 
Metaphor: figure of speech that makes a comparison between two unrelated things or ideas without using the words “like” or “as.” 
An example could be: 
"The world is a stage."
This metaphor compares the world to a stage on which people play out their roles in life.

How to Identify + Interpret an Extended Metaphor

Alright, for this study guide, we’re focusing on extended metaphors.
An extended metaphor in poetry is a comparison between two unlike things that is developed throughout a poem, rather than just being a single line or image. The comparison is sustained throughout the poem and it is used to explore various aspects of the subject. It may be developed through textual details such as similes and imagery (techniques we’ve explored in previous guides!)
For example, in Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken," the speaker compares the choice of which path to take in life to choosing a road through the woods. This metaphor is extended throughout the poem as the speaker reflects on the different paths and the implications of his choice.
Another example is in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot. The extended metaphor is the comparison of the speaker, J. Alfred Prufrock, to a "pair of ragged claws" which is used to describe his social inadequacies. This metaphor is used throughout the poem to convey the speaker's feelings of inadequacy and self-consciousness in social situations. It is extended throughout the poem as he reflects on his inability to connect with others.
Metaphors are not just limited to the literal objects being compared but they also focus on the specific traits, qualities, and characteristics that are being compared. This means an opinion above both objects is implied through the metaphor, and figurative meaning of those objects is conferred. 
The way you interpret an extended metaphor may depend on the context in which it is used. Essentially, this means what is happening in the overall poem can shape the meaning of the extended metaphor.

Test Yourself

Take a look at The Flea by John Donne. What extended metaphor does Donne employ?

Effect of Extended Metaphor

Here are some reasons why poets employ extended metaphors in their writing:
  • Extended metaphors can add depth and complexity to the poem's meaning by allowing the poet to explore different aspects of the comparison.
  • By using an extended metaphor, the poet can create a sense of unity and cohesiveness within the poem.
  • Extended metaphors can also make the poem more memorable and impactful by creating vivid and striking imagery.
  • Poets use extended metaphors to make their poem more imaginative and to create a more powerful emotional response from the reader.
  • Extended metaphors can also help the poet to convey complex or abstract ideas in a more concrete and relatable way.

Conclusion

An extended metaphor in poetry is when a comparison between two unlike things is developed throughout a poem. It's used to explore different aspects of the subject and can be developed through details, similes and imagery. Extended metaphors aren’t just limited to the objects being compared but also focuses on the specific traits, qualities and characteristics. The way you interpret an extended metaphor may depend on the context of the poem. Poets use extended metaphors to make their poem more imaginative, create a powerful emotional response, and convey complex or abstract ideas in a more concrete way.
That’s all for Unit 5 of AP Lit! I hope these study guides have given you more tools to analyze poetry with.

Answer to Test Yourself Exercise

In this poem, the flea is used as a metaphor for the narrator's desire for intimacy with his lover. The metaphor is extended throughout the poem as the narrator uses the flea's blood-sucking abilities to argue for the physical consummation of their love.
Browse Study Guides By Unit
🤔Exam Skills
🌱Unit 1 – Intro to Short Fiction
Unit 2 – Intro to Poetry
🎭Unit 3 – Intro to Longer Fiction & Drama
⚔️Unit 4 – Character, Conflict, & Storytelling in Short Fiction
🌈Unit 5 – Structure & Figurative Language in Poetry
🛠️Unit 6 – Literary Techniques in Longer Works
🏛️Unit 7 – Societal & Historical Context in Short Fiction
🤾🏾‍♀️Unit 8 – Advanced Techniques in Poetry
🚣🏾Unit 9 – Nuanced Analysis in Longer Works

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