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Metaphors

  • It is remarkable what fine hands men of genius write, even when they are as awkward in all other uses of the hand as a cow with a musket.

  • I have known some grim bells, with not a single joyous note in the whole peal, so forced to hurry for a human festival, with their harshness made light of, as though the Bishop of Hereford had again been forced to dance in his boots by a merry highwayman.

  • Brief, on a flying night, / From the shaken tower / A flock of bells take flight, / And go with the hour.

  • Metaphors are as tactful as they are informative, for if you know nothing at all about the subject, you are not offended or rebuked, because they offer your eye an agreeable still life, valuable for itself. Metaphors are the diplomats of rhetoric; they lead you urbanely to the brink, but it is you who states some unique conclusion to your own discovering self.

  • I swear I've nothing to do with anybody following you about. Honestly, I haven't. I wouldn't employ a man, anyway, who'd let a bloke see that he was being followed. No. When I start huntin' you, I shall be as silent and stealthy as a gas-leak.

  • Metaphor is the lifeblood of all art.

    • Twyla Tharp,
    • in Twyla Tharp with Mark Reiter, The Creative Habit ()
  • We are also rather concerned about our moorhen who went mad while we were in Italy and began to build a nest in a tree. ... she walks about in the tree, looking as uneasy yet persevering as a district visitor in a brothel.

  • After tea Bridget appeared and romped on my lap like a short stout salmon. It is not a person one feels moving when one holds a baby: it is life, compact, darting, incalculable.

  • ... I lay awake jumping like a newly-killed trout till 5 or six, when out of the dark I suddenly heard the comforting noises of the milk being set down on the door-step.

  • ... Mrs. Moxon lit our first fire, with a gimelled prayer cum incantation of good-will upon us. It burned merrily, the room began to live, like a ship getting under way.

  • Violet walked first with Valentine, then with me, pouring out her anxious heart, clinging, like a heavy butterfly, to my arm.

  • [John Craske] painted like a man giving witness under oath to a wild story.

  • Calling George Bush shallow is like calling a dwarf short.

  • I have been attacked by Rush Limbaugh on the air, an experience somewhat akin to being gummed by a newt.

  • ... she is ugly as sin.

  • My bitterness is not an abstract substance, it is as solid as a Christmas cake; I can cut it in slices and hand it round and there is still plenty left, for tomorrow.

  • [On journalists:] They are as disruptive a menace to the public body: as grating turds in the intestines are to the private body.

  • The entire universe is nothing but a great metaphor.

  • His mind divided! Verily, that is making two bites of a cherry.

  • Illnesses have always been used as metaphors to enliven charges that a society was corrupt or unjust.

  • ... the truth just gradually dripped through, like coffee through a percolator.

  • Stars clustered about the chimney-top like silver bees in swarm.

  • Sorrow was like the wind. It came in gusts ...

  • The sun lay like a friendly arm across her square shoulders.

  • Here in Florida the seasons move in and out like nuns in soft clothing, making no rustle in their passing.

  • Their thoughts moved brightly toward each other, like fireflies in the darkness.

  • He had the Gaelic gayety and melancholy, like the streaks of fat and lean in Irish bacon.

  • Amelia's spite retreated, like a snake crawling away.

  • Out of the sun, the cold bit like ivory fangs.

  • Arent's cup was not only empty, it had a hole in it.

  • Her satisfaction rose to the surface like the thick golden cream on the milk pans.

  • The family ate hugely, they were like a school of voracious fish feeding under the sea of chatter.

  • Herbert used to say that he was as tight as the paper on the wall.

  • He soft-soaped her until she couldn't see for the suds.

  • Unromantic as Monday morning.

  • ... chaperons dozed in their corsets like jellies left overnight in their molds ...

  • She met the adoring impertinence in his eyes with the despair a mother feels when she comes in after some hours' absence and finds her little boy still playing with his tin trumpet.

  • I bought Henry a beautiful Daimler coupé, the first new car we have ever had, a tender antelope of a car.

  • One always, sooner or later, comes upon a city which is an image of one's inner cities. Fez is an image of my inner self. ... The layers of the city of Fez are like the layers and secrecies of the inner life. One needs a guide. ... There were in Fez, as in my life, streets which led nowhere, impasses which remained a mystery.

    • Anaïs Nin,
    • 1936, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, vol. 2 ()
  • The softness of the summer day like an ermine paw.

    • Anaïs Nin,
    • 1937, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, vol. 2 ()
  • Gerald's straight, round writing had, to her imagination, a queer totter, like someone running for life in tight shoes.

  • ... the sky hung over the valley, from hill to hill, like a slack white sheet.

  • [She is] like a bear you have to keep throwing buns at.

  • Silence sat in the taxi, as though a stranger had got in.

  • ... James was the kind of man who would make a death-struggle with an octopus sound as heavy and dull as a Sunday dinner.

  • ... she seemed to be as resilient as a bedspring.

  • ... the tiny feet that crept, mice-like, in and out from under the sweeping folds of her silken robe.

  • Altogether, he's about as genial as the north side of a meeting-house.

  • I had seen a herd of Elephant travelling through dense native forest ... pacing along as if they had an appointment at the end of the world.

  • I had time after time watched the progression across the plain of the giraffe, in their queer, inimitable, vegetative gracefulness, as if it were not a herd of animals but a family of rare, long-stemmed, speckled gigantic flowers slowly advancing.

  • Leaves are verbs that conjugate the seasons.

  • Fog rolled in like a form of sorrow. To live exiled from a place you have known intimately is to experience sensory deprivation. A wide-awake coma. ... The sea was a memory bank into which everything fell and was lost. I dove in but came out empty-handed.

  • As fog moved to the mainland I heard a flock of birds fly over. They sounded like a dress rustling, a dress being unfastened and dropping to the floor. Fog came unpinned like hair. On the beach cliffs, great colonies of datura — jimson weed — with their white trumpet flowers, looked like brass bands.

  • ... we would see a long line of cattle like black lace against the sunset sky.

  • A metaphor never explains; it creates an image, and the image explains itself.

  • He counted all the bills over twice, and he looked exactly like a man skinning a flea for its hide and tallow.

  • They told me later my eyes were sticking out like organ stops.

    • Anne Worboys,
    • "The Last Cog in the Law Machine," in Dilys Winn, Murder Ink ()
  • ... half a dozen cars nuzzled the low buildings like pigs around a sow.

  • Her eyes were like two thumbtacks, trying to pin me to the wall.

  • ... the lunging waves shook froth from their mouths like runaway horses ...

  • I feel as if I am trying to row against wind and tide, with soft rubber oars.

    • Valentine Ackland,
    • 1957, in Susanna Pinney, ed., I'll Stand by You: Selected Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner and Valentine Ackland ()
  • But nerves! Be glad you have a nice little cirrhosis, Mrs. Munniman. Not like me with a husband silent as a stuffed sausage. I could drop dead asking him how many lumps in his tea.

    • Helen Hudson,
    • "The Strange Testament of Michael Cassidy," The Listener ()
  • ... shoes sticking out like tongues beneath the long black robe.

    • Helen Hudson,
    • title story, The Listener and Other Stories ()
  • Her dull mushroom eyes seemed to have grown smaller, as though they had been sautéed too long.

  • The melody of a religious feeling is the music of life itself. To those who do not hear it I could not explain what it sounds like ... If the spark isn't smoldering somewhere inside one, no efforts can ever bring it into existence. Water cannot catch fire.

  • ... the woman's eyes were alive as oysters.

  • ... for her the whole business of fiction was an arduous putting into words of ideas, pictures, thoughts that continually fought with her to keep their anonymity, their right to a shadowy and secret existence. She never put a thought on paper without feeling as though she were dragging some shrinking little crustacean out of its small shell with a pin.

  • There are few things as toxic as a bad metaphor. You can't think without metaphors.

  • To-day it has blown knives and files; a cold, rasping, savage day ...

    • Jane Welsh Carlyle,
    • journal (1855), in James Anthony Froude, ed., Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle, vol. 2 ()
  • A black cat dropped soundlessly from a high wall, like a spoonful of dark treacle, and melted under a gate.

  • I know the voice of fame to be a mere weathercock, unstable as water and fleeting as a shadow.

    • Abigail Adams,
    • 1781, in Frank Shuffelton, ed., The Letters of John and Abigail Adams ()
  • ... quiet settled in the room like snow.

  • ... her arguments are like elephants. They squash you flat.

  • All the help she had was a girl she just knew didn't have sense enough to pound sand into a rat-hole.

  • He followed me like an unpaid bill ...

  • ... a voice of a gray suede glove, sliding down a banister.

  • Suddenly a mist of green on the trees, as quiet as thought.

  • When she raises her eyelids it's as if she were taking off her clothes.

  • ... breathe in the pine and mint from the little salt marsh; its fragrance is scratching at the gate like a cat!

    • Colette,
    • 1928, in Enid McLeod, trans., Break of Day ()
  • Towards the end I looked like a rat dragging a stolen egg.

  • [On Lord Hugh Cecil:] I saw him riding in the Row, clinging to his horse like a string of onions.

  • He reminded one of a bottle with the cork driven in too far. One longed to get hold of his head and pull it out sharply so as to give him a bit more neck.

  • ... creative thought seems prone to flower in symbols before it ripens to fruit.

  • As a pale moth passes / In the April grasses, / So I come and go, / Softlier than snow.

    • Mary Webb,
    • "The Thought," in Martin Armstrong, ed., The Essential Mary Webb ()
  • A dead chicken's got more spirit in company than he has!

  • ... what a rope of sand we are without a leader ...

  • I, like Shenfu, do not want anything else; it would be adding feet to a snake.

  • Writing the story of your own life, I now know, is an agonizing experience, a bit like drilling your own teeth.

  • Goldfish are flowers ... flowers that move.

  • ... metaphors for God drawn from human experience can easily be literalized. While we are immediately aware that the personal God is not really a rock or a mother eagle, it is easy enough to imagine that God is really a king or a father.

  • Two big Cossacks have to carry him [Fred Astaire] protesting onto the dance floor, and there he does his longest and most absorbing solo of the series so far, full of stork-legged steps on toe, wheeling pirouettes in which he seems to be winding one leg around the other, and those ratcheting tap clusters that fall like loose change from his pockets.

  • ... as helpless as a cat in paper shoes.

  • Neat as a freshly peeled Easter egg, / Just six years old, he sat, comme il faut, / In the French Lycée in Berlin ...

  • He was a bit like a corkscrew. Twisted, cold and sharp.

  • Effective metaphor does more than shed light on the two things being compared. It actually brings to the mind's eye something that has never before been seen. It's not just the marriage ceremony linking two things; it's the child born from the union.

  • ... he struggled to remember. It was like watching an elephant crochet.

  • To reason from analogy is often dangerous, but to illustrate by a fanciful analogy is sometimes a means by which we light an idea, as it were, into the understanding of another.

    • Anna Jameson,
    • "Detached Thoughts," Studies, Stories, and Memoirs ()
  • The moment one begins to solder right and wrong together, one's conscience becomes like a piece of plated goods.


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  • Nina felt as if she were being tracked down by a large placid resolute elephant.

  • Long after the bomb falls and you and your good deeds are gone, cockroaches will still be here, prowling the streets like armored cars.

  • His eyes looked like two nervous fish trying to escape from a glass bowl.

  • We come back to autumn, / to zucchini that wilt like witches' shoes ...

    • Margaret Hasse,
    • "A Notch in the Spiral," Stars Above, Stars Below ()
  • A stiff wind gusting across the desert grabbed my car door like an overeager valet ...

  • As calm as innocence.

  • Sutures of lightning tightened the edges of the sky.

  • ... one of the buds on the rosebush opened into a blossom, white and silky as a baby's fist.

  • Moonlight lined the windowsills like a fall of snow.

  • ... writing had to take the form of journalism. Not for me the Shangri-la of fiction. The rewards, if any, would have been too little and too late, the bailiffs were at the door. ... Two large bailiffs, they were, who visited frequently and smiled like grand pianos, the only really reliable men in my life. They told me what they were going to do and if they did it, woe was me.

    • Jill Tweedie,
    • "Strange Places," in Michelene Wandor, ed., On Gender and Writing ()
  • The willows were sharp with tiny new leaves like the ears of baby field mice, transparent and infinitely frail.

  • ... very bright teeth as big and orderly as piano keys.

  • ... I feel about as effective as a February lamb.

  • He was so narrow-minded he could see through a keyhole with two eyes.

  • ... they reminded me of the biggest liar I ever knew personally. Was a farmer, too. Reputation of pretty good farmer at that, but he lied so he had to hire another man to call his pigs.

  • Captain Callowhill's face had all the best features, I thought, of a brace of working ferrets.

  • Dead metaphors make strong idols.

    • Marcia Falk,
    • "Notes on Composing New Blessings," in Judith Plaskow and Carol P. Christ, eds., Weaving the Visions ()
  • She saw life as a ghastly skeleton and herself feverishly trying to cover up its bare bones ...

  • Her light blue eyes were like two busy hands.

  • Metaphor is the energy charge that leaps between images, revealing their connections.

  • ... talking to Maurizio was like playing a slot machine. ... Suddenly, unpredictably, he would spew out words.

  • Arguing with Owen with like fencing with a bag of wool.

  • ... you could see the roads crisscrossing over the fields. When cars went by, far away, the beams were so bright they seemed to be ropes of light pulling the cars behind.


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  • The rehearsal had not been over for more than ten minutes and he could not have been standing there for more than six, but the look of exhaustion and reproach in his eyes suggested I had kept him waiting for days in some remote and shelterless mountain pass.

  • [He drove] at a stately thirty miles an hour, triumphant but alert, eyes flicking left and right, like an Allied general entering a newly liberated town.

  • There's plenty of fire in the coldest flint!

  • Her eyes burned under their penthouses, sometime straying towards Seth as he sat sprawling in the lusty pride of casual manhood, with a good many buttons and tapes undone. Then those same eyes, dark as prisoned king-cobras, would slide round until they rested upon the bitter white head and raddled red neck of Amos, her husband, and then, like praying mantises, they would retreat between their lids.

  • He felt as one would if assaulted physically by a benign elderly rabbit.

  • His eyes were pools of pain, in which his bruised thoughts darted and fed like tortured fish.

  • One of the disadvantages of almost universal education was the fact that all kinds of persons acquired a familiarity with one's favourite writers. It gave one a curious feeling; it was like seeing a drunken stranger wrapped in one's dressing gown.

  • Their shiny grey limousines lay around Hyde Park Corner like basking sharks.

  • Memory walked through old men's minds like a choir boy swinging a censer.

  • ... his eyes were shiny and flat as mirrors.

  • Wiggins was about to answer, and seeing he might be divulging privileged information, shut up like a drawer.

  • He was about as useful in a crisis as a sheep.

  • ... her landlady, Mrs. Peebles, ... was as endearing as a poised tomahawk and just as stimulating.

  • She was as uneasy as a cat in a new house, unhappy, suspicious, her fur on end.

  • He smelled submission in Quoyle, guessed he was butter of fair spreading consistency.

  • An image is a bridge between evoked emotion and conscious knowledge; words are the cables that hold up the bridge. Images are more direct, more immediate than words, and closer to the unconscious. Picture language precedes thinking in words; the metaphorical mind precedes analytical consciousness.

  • Moppet sounded as unconcerned as a moth in a steamer rug.

  • ... as innocent as waking babies playing with their toes.

    • Grace King,
    • "The Story of a Day," Balcony Stories ()
  • The dead elm leaves hung like folded bats.

  • Sun spills over the mountains like gold from a miner's pan.

  • They were an odd couple, those two sisters. ... They were like two trees with buried roots so tangled that they inevitably leaned on each other, and also strangled each other a bit.

  • Summer comes over the hill like a hairy blanket.

  • Judge Taylor was on the bench, looking like a sleepy old shark, his pilot fish writing rapidly below in front of him.

  • He didn't feel just then that he could bear Oliver Gault's pontifical courtesy; it was like going around arm in arm with a cathedral.

  • He was as easy to live with as an alarm clock set to ring at regular intervals.

  • Like an enormous walnut in feeble, jittery squirrel hands, an idea, bigger and closer than any idea he had ever known, had been revolving in his mind for several days.

  • His history had the ethereal quality of hoofprints in windblown snow.

  • All the afternoon we sat as idle as babies, with nowhere to go, nothing to do and nothing to do it with.

  • She was about as subtle as a see-through blouse.

  • He heard sound coming. Rain, like hundreds of mice running through corn.

  • The golden light of metaphor, which is the intelligence of poetry, was implicit in alchemical study. To change, magically, one substance into another, more valuable one is the ancient function of metaphor, as it was of alchemy.

  • Mine was a Catholic girlhood spent gorging on metaphor ... Maybe we had too much meaning too early. It was like having too much money. The quirkiness of life was betrayed, given inflated significance by our rich symbology. We powered around our ordinary lives in the Cadillac language of Catholic spirituality, looking on with pity as the Protestants pedaled their stripped-down bicycles.

  • [Samuel] Johnson's conversation was by much too strong for a person accustomed to obsequiousness and flattery; it was mustard in a young child's mouth!

  • Fat overflowed not only from her jowl to her neck, but from her ankles to her shoes. She looked like a pudding that had risen too high and run down the sides of the dish.

  • To be kissed by a man without a mustache was like eating an egg without salt.

  • I have been tight as a tick! Fried as a mink! Stiff as a goat!

  • Her voice was sharp and probing, like a needle in the hands of a nervous nurse.

  • ... he was as evenly tanned as if someone had taken great care to turn him over regularly with a fork.

  • He flashed that smile, piratical, conspiratorial, like a man with a knife between his teeth.

  • Earlene's handshake consisted of laying her fingers passively across mine. It was like having a half pound of cooked linguini placed in your palm for safekeeping.

  • Now, see there. Just because I'm wearing my Super-Dike sweatshirt, you think I'm a lesbian. I guess if I were wearing a string of pearls, you'd think I was an oyster.

  • The summer lasted a long long time, like verse after verse of a ballad, but when it ended, it ended like a man falling dead in the street of heart trouble. One night, all in one night, severe winter came, a white horse of snow rolling over Bountiful, snorting and rolling in its meadows, its fields.

  • ... they were hungry enough to eat a sawmill and it a-running.

  • ... it was a bitter and biting iron-gray afternoon, that clanked like armor and was as cold as a frosty axehead.

  • A kiss without a mustache is like an egg without salt.

  • Night after summer night the supper dishes went unwashed while we loafed together on the porch watching fireflies seedstitch the dark with gold.

  • I love you like forty / fond sisters.

    • Anna Akhmatova,
    • in Wendy Rosslyn, The Prince, the Fool, and the Nunnery: The Religious Theme in the Early Poetry of Anna Akhmatova ()
  • [On a protest:] ... a government crew had come to demolish a Pennsylvania Avenue building occupied by veterans who would not leave peaceably. Police had to carry the occupants out one by one, and it took two hours to do it. By noon, feeling was as high as the hands of the clock.

  • The children are the dumplings / set afloat ... Wrap the children / in wonton skins, bright quilted bundles.

  • These days I'm suspecting grief over you is / a metaphor for grief in me. I used to think I / made a metaphor out of every fact to screen / you. Then I suspected there actually were facts, or / it was advantageous to imagine there were, but / now I draw from actual longing a longing locus / where any dry leaf clatters against the windowpane / in a web.

  • Metaphors are tiny saviors leading the way out of sentimentality, small disciples of Pound, urging 'Say it new! Say it new!'