It occurs when the writer compares two things without directly mentioning one of them. They depend on the reader being able to interpret what they’re thinking about or alluding to and therefore put together all the pieces of the implied metaphor. It can be incredibly effective when interesting objects, ideas, people, actions, or other elements are compared to one another. It can also appeal to different senses than a normal metaphor can. It requires deeper thought and, therefore, can trigger a reader’s senses in a new way.
Explore Implied Metaphor
Definition of Implied Metaphor
The words “implied metaphor” should be broken down into two parts, “implied” and “metaphor.” The latter is one of the most commonly used types of figurative language in literature. It occurs when the writer compares two unlike things without using “like” or “as.” This kind of comparison suggests that one thing is another, whether it actually is or not. It allows readers to think about things in a new way. The best metaphors are those that are as original as possible.
When the word “implied” is added into the balance, it makes the metaphor process slightly more complicated. Now, one element of the metaphor, one of the two things being compared, is hidden. It is not directly expressed but is instead alluded to in the text.
Examples of Implied Metaphors in Literature
Caged Bird by Maya Angelou
In ‘Caged Bird,’ the poet Maya Angelou creates an implied metaphor through her depiction of two different birds. There is one with “wings…clipped / His feet… tied” and another who is free to fly around the skies as he wants. These two birds represent the racial divide in the United States and the prejudice that exists against communities of color. The free bird is a metaphor for white Americans, while the caged bird represents African Americans and other black and brown people. One is allowed certain freedoms while the other is not. Here are a few lines from the poem:
The caged bird sings
With a fearful trill
Of things unknown
But longed for still
And his tune is heard
On the distant hill
For the caged bird
Sings of freedom.
Unlike some examples of implied metaphors, this one is quite easy to interpret, especially if the reader is aware of Angelou’s other work. Her poems often deal with similar themes and subject matter.
Read more Maya Angelou poems.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson
In this famous Dickinson poem, the speaker compares “hope” to a “thing with feathers.” While one side of the metaphor is hinted at, it’s not explicitly stated that Dickinson is comparing a bird to hope. It takes a bit of thought on the reader’s part to put the pieces together. She includes other lines like “perches in the soul” and “sings the tune without the words.” Without these lines, a reader might be less certain in their analysis. Here is the commonly quoted first stanza:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
Through this comparison, she’s able to craft a beautiful and fleeting image of hope that should appeal to every reader who encounters it. As Dickinson’s poetry goes, this piece is one of the most direct. It’s quite easy to understand the imagery she’s trying to convey.
Discover more Emily Dickinson poetry.
The Sun Rising by John Donne
This is a wonderful John Donne poem that contains a good example of what an implied metaphor can accomplish. Like most of his poems, the wording is slightly complex. It requires a few readings in order to understand exactly what he’s trying to convey. He uses the sun to depict his relationship and its deep beauty and warmth. Here are a few lines:
Busy old fool, unruly sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school boys and sour prentices,
Donne never says, “The sun is my relationship” or “my relationship is the sun.” He uses his metaphor far more skillfully, requiring a more poetic interpretation and reading of the text.
Explore more John Donne poems.
Implied Metaphor and Extended Metaphor
An implied metaphor and an extended metaphor are two different types of this form of figurative language. An extended metaphor lasts for more than one line. It could be maintained throughout a poem, short story, play, or novel for an entire stand, paragraph, or the entire poem. ‘Hope is the thing with feathers’ is one example. Throughout the poem, Dickinson makes her comparisons between hope and a bird. An implied metaphor can also be an extended metaphor. With more lines, the implied metaphor becomes clearer. This is also the case with the above John Donne example.
A more contemporary example of an extended metaphor can be found in ‘The Skunk’ by Seamus Heaney. In this poem, the speaker compares his wife to a skunk, also using zoomorphism. Here are a few lines from the piece:
It all came back to me last night, stirred
By the sootfall of your things at bedtime,
Your head-down, tail-up hunt in a bottom drawer
For the black plunge-line nightdress.
Heaney combines images of his human wife with this animal counterpart until they become one creation.
Read more Seamus Heaney poems.
Related Literary Terms
- Metaphor: used to describe an object, person, situation, or action in a way that helps a reader understand it without using “like” or “as.”
- Extended Metaphor: a literary term that refers to a long metaphorical comparison that can last an entire poem.
- Simile: a comparison between two, unlike things that uses the words “like” or “as.”
- Juxtaposition: a literary technique that places two unlike things next to one another.
- Antithesis: occurs when two contrasting ideas are put together to achieve the desired outcome.
- Oxymoron: a kind of figurative language in which two contrasting things are connected together.