Guide to Learning Similes
This student’s guide to mastering similes is as useful as a bucket in a rainstorm. The poetry master should be able to do the following.
- Define simile: Give the definition. A simile is the comparison between two unlike things using like or as. This step can be accomplished by anybody willing to spend the 4 minutes necessary for memorization.
- Identify similes: Good, but it still falls short of mastery.
- Interpret similes: Explaining why the author chooses a particular simile and what effect it has on the poem’s theme makes one nearly a master of simile.
- Use similes: Being able to use similes to convey more clearly a specific message means mastery.
Keep these four steps in mind as you review the examples.
Note: All of poems used in these examples can be found online via the links included in the reference section at the bottom of this study guide.
“A Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes
Simile Example: The entire poem contains similes.
Analysis: Hughes asks a question, a rhetorical question: What happens to a dream deferred? If this were a quiz it would be multiple choice, and none of the answers sound appealing:
What happens to a dream deferred?
- A) It dries up like a raisin in the sun
- B) It festers like a sore
- C) It stinks like rotten meat
- D) It sags like a heavy load
- E) It explodes (a metaphor comparing a dream deferred to a ticking bomb)
- F) A-D
The first four similes imply acquiescence and submission. The fifth option hints at violence.
The poem suggests a key difference between similes (an indirect comparison) and metaphors (a direct comparison).
Metaphors have a greater impact on the reader in the same way an explosion would have a greater impact on society.
“Red Red Rose” by Robert Burns
Similes: O my Luve’s like a red, red rose, / That’s newly sprung in June: / O my Luve’s like the melodie, / That’s sweetly play’d in tune. / As fair art thou, my bonie lass / So deep in luve am I…
Analysis: Burns compares his love to not just a rose, to not just a red rose, to not just a red, red rose, but a newly sprung red, red rose. He compares his love not to just a melody, nor to a sweetly played melody, but to a sweetly played melody in tune.
He finishes by claiming his love as equal to her beauty (This line makes me wonder about the potential superficiality of his love.).
These hyperbolic similes are tame compared to Burns’ hyperbolic phrases that finish the poem. My personal feeling is that Burns is just trying to get some, but I could be wrong.
“Simile” by N. Scott Momaday
Simile: The poem is a simile poem, meaning the entire poem is a simile. Line 2 contains the comparison “and we are like the deer” and the rest of the poem describes in what manner his people are like the deer.
Analysis: Momaday writes of the fate of Native Americans, having himself grwon up on the Kiawa Indian reservation. The deer is portrayed as submissive, yet noble, able to break forth without warning.
Sonnet CXXX by William Shakespeare
Similes: My mistress eyes are nothing like the sun (1). I think my love as rare / As any she belied with false compare (13-14).
Analysis: Shakespeare proves himself to be a master of irony as he employs what appears to be a negative reflection on his love in lines 1-12 only to turn it on its head.
“The Base Stealer” by Robert Francis
Similes: The base stealer is
- pulled both ways like a tightrope-walker
- bouncing tiptoe like a dropped ball
- or a kid skipping rope
- hovers like an ecstatic bird
Analysis: Francis’ word choice–tightrope, tiptoe, taut, fingertips, teeters, skitters, tingles, teases – captures the intensity of a speedy base runner at first base during the late innings of a tight game.
It’s the word choice along with the similes that maks this poem masterful, not to mention the alliteration and consonance involving the “t” sound.
- Sonnet CXXX by William Shakespeare: Found at http://www.shakespeares-sonnets.com/sonnet/130
- “Red Red Rose” by Robert Burns: Found at http://www.robertburns.org/works/444.shtml
- “Simile” by N. Scott Momaday: Found at http://www.poemhunter.com/search/?q=simile+by+momaday
- “The Base Stealer” by Robert Francis: Found at http://www.baseball-almanac.com/poetry/po_base.shtml
- “A Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes: Found at http://www.cswnet.com/~menamc/langston.htm
This post is part of the series: Analyzing the Elements of Poetry
- Examples of Imagery in Poetry with Analysis
- Examples of Similes in Poetry and a Study Guide
- Poetry Analysis Study Guide: Examples of Metaphors in Poetry
- Examples of Personification in Poetry with Analysis
- Examples of Poetry Using Figurative Language with Analysis