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The function of metaphor in poetry is to talk about one object or situation while alluding to another. It is used as a means of explanation. It is used as a figure of speech and as a form of analogy. Famous examples of the metaphor in poetry include “Cut” by Sylvia Plath, “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost and “The Country of the Blind” by C.S. Lewis.
In Ancient Greece, Aristotle believed there were only four types of metaphor. Of these four, only analogy is still considered an element of metaphor. The other three are now considered to be elements of metonymy and synecdoche. Regardless of the other three, Aristotle believed that analogy was the most important of all.
A metaphor is different to a kenning. A kenning is the replacement of a noun with a pair of other nouns alluding to the original noun. For example, the sea is often called the “whale road” in skaldic poetry. Kennings are not metaphors because they lack circumlocution and concept. Metaphor uses the direct replacement of one thing or notion with another and does not apply “like” or “as” as found in similes.
There are several types of basic metaphor in poetry. First, there is allegory, which is an extended metaphor often stretched over the length of an entire poem. Second there is catachresis, a type of mixed metaphor where a word is employed with a radically different meaning than originally intended. There are also parables; they also a feature length metaphor, but one that intends to offer a moral lesson at the end.
A dead metaphor in poetry offers a physical action as a metaphor for understanding. Absolute metaphors have distinct meanings that are often hidden within the poem and have to be deduced. Conceit metaphors are where the extended metaphor first offers a stage, such as “the world is but a stage” and then broadens it out to include subsidiary metaphors such as “and the people in it, its actors.”
Metaphor is important to poetry because it helps to explain emotions in other, simpler, terms. As Aristotle stated in his “Poetics,” the difference between histories and poems is that poems explain emotions while histories explain events. Metaphors also explain qualities using the same methods.
The use of the metaphor in poetry has led to the association of certain symbols and qualities or emotions. Love is linked to the heart, while all neuroscientists will say that love comes from the brain. Such poetic metaphors have, therefore, become part of everyday life.