A metaphor is a comparison between two, unlike things that do not use “like” or “as.” They feature throughout the poems on this list. From authors like Philip Larkin to Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath, all poets have used metaphors in one way or another. On this list, readers can find a few of the best poems ever written that utilize metaphors.
Best Poems with Metaphors
- 1 Wires by Philip Larkin
- 2 “Hope” is the thing with feathers— by Emily Dickinson
- 3 The Flea by John Donne
- 4 The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
- 5 I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth
- 6 Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? by William Shakespeare
- 7 O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman
- 8 A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning by John Donne
- 9 An Apple Gathering by Christina Rossetti
- 10 The Colossus by Sylvia Plath
- 11 FAQs
Wires by Philip Larkin
This memorable poem uses an extended metaphor. This means that the metaphor lasts for more than one line. In this case, it extends throughout the entire poem. It compares human beings to young steer and their learned behavior. Here are a few of Larkin’s lines:
Leads them to blunder up against the wires
Whose muscle-shredding violence gives no quarter.
Young steers become old cattle from that day,
Electric limits to their widest senses.
The speaker describes the learned behavior of cattle who spend their days on a wide prairie surrounded by an electric fence. In Larkin’s imagined pasture, the old cows are well aware of the importance of staying away from the boundaries of the field. But the young steer are less experienced and have yet to come to grips with the predetermined boundaries of their world. They “blunder against the wires,” still unaware of the boundaries of their world.
Read more Philip Larkin poems.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers— by Emily Dickinson
In this famous poem, Dickinson compares a bird to “hope.” The poem is lighter than the majority of her poetry and focuses on the personification of hope. Hope is, the speaker says, a bird that perches inside her soul and sings. The bird asks for nothing. It is at peace, and is, therefore, able to impart the same hope and peace to the speaker. Here are a few lines:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
She can depend on it and take pleasure from it. The text is also a prime example of the way that Dickinson used nature as a metaphor for the most complicated of human emotions.
Explore Emily Dickinson’s poetry.
The Flea by John Donne
This poem is one of John Donne’s most famous and commonly studied. It uses a conceit or an extended metaphor that is particularly surprising and unexpected. This is something that Donne was very well-known for. In this poem, the speaker describes being bitten by a flea that also bit his lover. Consider these lines:
Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is;
It sucked me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be;
Thou know’st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead,
Their bodies are mixing inside the body of the flea, therefore inspiring the speaker to ask his lover to sleep with him. But, she kills the flea. Rather than being deterred, the speaker uses this as proof that there’s no reason they shouldn’t sleep together. Their essences mingled successfully inside the creature, so they will live in real life as well.
Read more John Donne poems.
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
‘The Road Not Taken’ is an incredibly popular poem. In it, the speaker describes two paths that are set out before the speaker, and it is up to him to choose which one to travel down. These two paths clearly represent broader and more important choices in life. Interesting, Frost described how this poem was written as a joke and a way of teasing his friend and fellow poet, Edward Thomas. Consider these lines:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
One of the two paths appears to be less worn than the other, but after closer inspection, the reader should realize they are both the same. At the time, he thought he might go back and try the tooth path, but he realized that this is never going to happen.
Consider more Robert Frost poems.
I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth
This well-loved poem is at the heart of Romanticism. This poem describes the spontaneous emotions of the poet’s heart and how it is sparked by the sprightly dance of daffodils. He writes the following lines:
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Here, he describes the daffodils as “dancing,” a wonderful example of personification. The poet also uses a simile, comparing himself to a “cloud” that floats “on high o’er vales and hills.” He goes on, comparing the stars to dancers using the following metaphor: “Ten thousand saw I at a glance, / Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.”
Explore William Wordsworth’s poetry.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? by William Shakespeare
The speaker starts off this poem with the question, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” He answers this himself, saying that his lover, the Fair Youth, is far more beautiful. He is “more lovely and more temperate.” Here are a few more lines:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
The speaker compares the listener to an “eternal summer” that “shall not fade.”
Read more of William Shakespeare’s poetry.
O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman
This popular poem uses a metaphor to compare the recently deceased President Abraham Lincoln to a ship captain. The poet wrote:
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
Without specifically using his name, the poet makes it clear that he’s mourning the loss of his “captain,” the President, and is trying to celebrate his life.
Read these Walt Whitman poems.
A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning by John Donne
Along with ‘The Flea,’ this is one of the best examples of Donne’s use of conceits. In the second part of the poem, the speaker creates a beautiful metaphor that compares his love and lover to the hands of a compass. As one stays steady on the paper (the woman and intended listener of the poem), the other strays, always to be brought back home safely. Here are a few lines:
And though it in the center sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.
Discover John Donne’s poetry.
An Apple Gathering by Christina Rossetti
In this interesting Rossetti poem, the poet uses the metaphor of an apple picking to describe a woman losing her virginity and worth in the poet’s contemporary society. The woman picks her apples too early and suddenly, she’s lost her place. Here are a few lines:
I plucked pink blossoms from mine apple-tree
And wore them all that evening in my hair:
Then in due season when I went to see
I found no apples there.
Read more Christina Rossetti poems.
The Colossus by Sylvia Plath
This powerful poem uses a metaphor to describe Plath’s relationship with her father. She wrote:
I shall never get you put together entirely,
Pieced, glued, and properly jointed.
Mule-bray, pig-grunt and bawdy cackles
Proceed from your great lips.
It’s worse than a barnyard.
She has a troubling relationship, compared to a caretaker trying to put a statue back tougher, with her father. She tends to the statue, sometimes expressing irritation or exasperation with it and other times relishing in its presence.
Explore more of Sylvia Plath’s poetry.
An example is “Hope is the thing with feathers” from the poem of the same name by Emily Dickinson. She compares hope in one’s heart to a perching bird.
They are comparisons between two, unlike things that do not use “like” or “as.” These comparisons are sometimes obvious and other times far more surprising and original, such as in the case of John Donne’s poetry.
An extended metaphor is a metaphor that lasts more than a few lines. It can run throughout an entire poem, stanza, or a series of stanzas.