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Extended Metaphor

Epic Examples to Understand the Meaning of Extended Metaphors

A unique literary device used to enhance any piece of writing in the English Language, here is an overview of extended metaphors with the help of some examples.
Puja Lalwani
Last Updated: Mar 19, 2018
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

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

-The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost

Anyone who reads this poem will marvel at its tacit simplicity as a metaphor for the choices we make or the decisions we take in life. The poem above is what is known as an extended metaphor. You may be already aware that a metaphor is a figure of speech used to draw a comparison between two subjects. You may also be aware of several examples of metaphors that have been taught to you. In an extended metaphor, the comparison continues into several lines or passages, and these then become full-fledged poems or stories. Such a metaphor is also often termed as 'conceit'.

The best way to explain this concept is by means of the example presented above. This poem is one that in short explains how taking the road less traveled (i.e. less favored choices by others) can sometimes be the best decision you have made in life. In the first stanza, the poet speaks of two roads that diverge in a wood, that are metaphorical of two (opposite) choices he has been given, and explains that he cannot take both these choices. The following lines are analyses of the roads that bring into light several different aspects of these. This is in fact an analysis of the choices he has to make, in order to decide which one will be the final one. In the last stanza, the extended metaphor is summed up by saying he took the road less traveled by, metaphorical of the choice he made that was perhaps not perceived as the best choice, but that this choice has made all the difference, and led him to where he is today.

As such, an extended metaphor picks up a subject to be compared with another, and then through several lines or passages, draws a comparison between all the aspects of that subject with the other. This subject becomes the central theme around which the entire passage or poem is then woven.

Some More Examples

The extended metaphor can be well understood by means of some more examples given below.

Example 1

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,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices ;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

-The Sun Rising, John Donne

In this extended metaphor poem by John Donne, the sun is accused of being the enemy of two lovers, who are forced to part with each other because it is a new day and they must get on with it. In the following lines, the poet scolds the sun and tells it to wake up little school boys, and disturb other people, implying that others may be slaves of time, but lovers are definitely not. Towards the end of the stanza, the poet makes a point by saying that love knows no time or season, and compares various time frames as the 'rags' or the mere appendages of time.

Example 2

Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around -- nobody big, I mean -- except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff -- I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be. I know it's crazy.
-Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

This is an excerpt from one of the most popular books world over, spoken by the hero of the book, a teenager called Holden Caulfield, that may well be used as an example. Here, he compares the thousands of children to grains of rye that have started going over the cliff. This cliff is metaphorical of teen age and adulthood. Here, he feels responsible and wants to prevent the children from transcending this stage that will lead to loss of innocence and present difficult times in terms of adapting and adjusting to the changes that growing older brings. He calls himself the catcher in the rye, by which he means the person who would like to protect these children from the changes they are bound to face, because he has been through the same experience and wishes to protect the children from it.

Extended metaphors as literary devices add a unique quality to any piece of writing and give the reader immense pleasure in perusing such texts. Used well, it can transform a mundane piece of text into a passage to live by. Used badly, it can cause severe confusion and lead to loss of the entire point trying to be made. It is important to first go through several examples of extended metaphors in the English Language before you attempt to write one yourself.