A metaphor states that one thing is something else. This description, however, is too simple for the way metaphors often work in poetry, literature and speeches. You will often find something being described, or written about, as if it is something else, without the writer ever saying 'x is y' (do you see the mathematical metaphor there?).

Some of the examples in this quiz are quite challenging to spot. Others are more obvious. Keep paying attention and you will soon see that metaphors are everywhere!

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  1. 'I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide, / Welling and swelling I bear in the tide. / Leaving behind nights of terror and fear / I rise / Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear / I rise' - Maya Angelou uses which metaphor in these lines from her poem, 'Still I Rise'?
    Metaphors in poetry can work on several levels at the same time. It is also possible to use different metaphors for the same thing - if you read these lines closely, it appears that the speaker is the rising sun, as well as the sea
  2. 'To any who had observed him before he lost his gold, it might have seemed that so withered and shrunken a life as his could hardly be susceptible of a bruise, could hardly endure any subtraction but such as would put an end to it altogether.' - What does George Eliot describe metaphorically in this excerpt from her book, Silas Marner?
  3. 'She was very pretty and simple, and her face was sweet and young. Now her rouged cheeks and her reddened lips made her seem alive and sleeping very lightly. The curls, tiny little sausages, were spread on the hay behind her head, and her lips were parted.' - What is described metaphorically in this passage about Curley's wife, from John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men?
    Curls that are 'tiny, little sausages' make a striking image
  4. 'Perhaps you consider yourself an oracle, / Mouthpiece of the dead, or of some god or other. / Thirty years now I have laboured / To dredge the silt from your throat' - Sylvia Plath uses which metaphor in these lines from her poem, 'The Colossus'?
    What does it mean, metaphorically, to have a throat blocked by silt? The person being addressed here is unlikely to be a good communicator - the speaker says she has helpfully tried to unblock his throat, but the effort has been fruitless
  5. 'My vegetable love should grow / Vaster than empires, and more slow' - Which metaphor has Andrew Marvell used in these lines from his poem 'To His Coy Mistress'?
    'Weak' and 'rotten' would not be metaphors. Remember that a metaphor is where one thing is described as something else. 'Weak' and 'rotten' are adjectives, not things (nouns)
  6. 'Bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men's stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o'clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft tea-cakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.' - What (or who) is described metaphorically in this passage from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird?
    The ladies are described with an unusual, and highly-effective, simile - they are like tea-cakes
  7. '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' - What (or who) does Romeo describe metaphorically in this speech from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet?
    Romeo's speech is playful - the light is the east, Juliet is the Sun, the sunrise 'kills' the Moon
  8. 'With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.' Which of the following is NOT described metaphorically in Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech?
    Faith is both a tool and the art of a composer; despair is a mountain in which can be found the 'stone' of hope; the nation is a cacophonous noise, while brotherhood is described metaphorically as a symphony
  9. 'Sky a tense diaphragm / Dusk hung like a backcloth / That shook where a swan swam' - Which metaphor has Seamus Heaney used in these lines from his poem, 'Twice Shy'?
    The sky is metaphorically the diaphragm, or the muscle which controls breathing - this image magnifies the tension felt by the two characters in the poem: it is not just they who hold their breath; it is the entire sky waiting in stillness
  10. 'While horse and hero fell / They that had fought so well / Came thro' the jaws of Death' - What metaphor has Alfred Lord Tennyson used in these lines from his poem, 'The Charge of the Light Brigade'?

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