Extended metaphor

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An extended metaphor, also known as a conceit or sustained metaphor, is when an author exploits a single metaphor or analogy at length through multiple linked vehicles, tenors,and grounds.[1][2][3] Tenor is the subject of the metaphor, vehicle is the image or subject that carries the weight of the comparison, and ground is the shared proprieties of the two compared subjects.[4][5] Another way to think of extended metaphors is in terms of implications of a base metaphor.[6] These implications are repeatedly emphasized, discovered, rediscovered, and progressed in new ways.[6]


William Shakespeare[edit]

Original printing of Sonnet 18

Symbolism is a common theme of extended metaphors. This is often seen in William Shakespeare's work. For example, in Sonnet 18 the speaker offers an extended metaphor which compares his love to Summer.[7] Shakespeare also makes use of extended metaphors in Romeo and Juliet, most notably in the balcony scene where Romeo offers an extended metaphor comparing Juliet to the sun. An excerpt is provided below:[8][9]

It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou her maid art far more fair than she:
Be not her maid, since she is envious;
Her vestal livery is but sick and green
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.[10]

T.S. Eliot[edit]

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In the following passage from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot provides another example of an extended metaphor:

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.[11]

Qualities (grounds) that we associate with cats (vehicle), color, rubbing, muzzling, licking, slipping, leaping, curling, sleeping, are used to describe the fog (tenor).[5]

Robert Frost[edit]

The commonly used “life-is-a-journey” metaphor conceptualized by Lakoff and Johnson (1980 and 1989)[12][13] is extended in Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken. An excerpt is provided below:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.[14]

This poem can only be understood if the reader has knowledge of the “life-is-a-journey” metaphor. That knowledge includes understanding of other grounds between the tenor (life) and vehicle (journey) that are not as transparent in this poem. Holyoak (2005) gives examples of these grounds, “person is a traveler, purposes are destinations, actions are routes, difficulties in life are impediments to travel, counselors are guides, and progress is the distance traveled.”[15]

Ted Hughes[edit]

In "The Thought-Fox", Ted Hughes uses the extended metaphor that the idea he struggles to find is actually a fox. By using an extended metaphor, it becomes more convincing.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Montgomery, Martin (2000). Ways of Reading: Advanced Reading Skills for Students of English Literature. Psychology Press. pp. 154–155. ISBN 0415222060. 
  2. ^ Griffith, Kelley (2010). Writing Essays about Literature. Cengage Learning. pp. 133–134. ISBN 1428290419. 
  3. ^ "Extended metaphor". ChangingMinds.org. Retrieved 2 November 2012. 
  4. ^ Richards, I.A. (2001). Principles of Literary Criticism. Psychology Press. ISBN 0415254027. 
  5. ^ a b Thornborrow, Joa (1998). Patterns in Language: An Introduction to Language and Literary Style. Psychology Press. ISBN 0415140641. 
  6. ^ a b Brummett, Barry (2009). Techniques of Close Reading. SAGE. pp. 81–82. ISBN 1412972655. 
  7. ^ Aubusson, Peter J.; Harrison, Allan G.; Ritchie, Stephen M. (2005). Metaphor and Analogy in Science Education. Springer. pp. 3–4. ISBN 1402038291. 
  8. ^ Dash, Irene G. (2010). Shakespeare and the American Musical. Indiana University Press. p. 88. ISBN 0253354145. 
  9. ^ "Romeo and Juliet: "But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks...."". Shakespeare Resource Center. Retrieved 4 November 2012. 
  10. ^ "Romeo and Juliet". The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved 4 November 2012. 
  11. ^ Eliot, T.S. "1. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock". Prufrock and Other Observations. Bartleby.com. Retrieved 4 November 2012. 
  12. ^ Lakoff, George; Johnson, Mark (1980). Metaphors We Live By. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226468011. 
  13. ^ Lakoff, George; Turner, Mark (1989). More than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226468127. 
  14. ^ Frost, Robert. "The Road Not Taken". Bartleby.com. Retrieved 4 November 2012. 
  15. ^ Holyoak, Keith J.; Morrison, Robert G. (2005). The Cambridge Handbook of Thinking and Reasoning. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521824176.