Love Is a Metaphor

"Metaphors are dangerous. Love begins with a metaphor."

Love is a metaphor
Moncherie / Contributor / Getty Images

"I have said before that metaphors are dangerous," Milan Kundera wrote in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. "Love begins with a metaphor."

He might have added that love sometimes ends with a metaphor as well.

Like the experience of love itself, metaphors make connections. So it's no surprise that love has been imagined, examined, and remembered through a wide variety of figurative comparisons.

Many of these metaphors are familiar ones: love as a journey, a flower, a fire, or a game. As Zoltán Kövecses notes in his book Metaphor: A Practical Introduction (2010), "These are all highly conventional ways of conceptualizing love; they are age-old in Anglo-American (and even more generally in Western) culture. . . . Most people comprehend their love experiences and lead their love lives via such conventional conceptual metaphors."

But that doesn't mean that all love metaphors are conventional or that they convey the same message.

As this rich collection of passages demonstrates, love has been compared to everything from a jewel and a fevered dream to a snowmobile and an exploding cigar. And while some comparisons evoke a sense of rapture, others impart feelings of cynicism or despair.

The metaphors in this collection range over the centuries. Alongside quotations from Plato, Ovid, and Shakespeare you'll find fresh figures from the likes of Tom Robbins, Eminem, and Rita Mae Brown.

But why just 99 metaphors and not an even 100?

Because that last one has been left for you to create.

 

Love Is a Metaphor: 99 Metaphors of Love

  1. A Fruit
    Love is a fruit, in season at all times and within the reach of every hand. Anyone may gather it and no limit is set.
    (Mother Teresa, No Greater Love, 1997)
  2. A Banana Peel
    I look at you and wham, I'm head over heels.
    I guess that love is a banana peel.
    I feel so bad and yet I'm feeling so well.
    I slipped, I stumbled, I fell.
    (Ben Weisman and Fred Wise, "I Slipped, I Stumbled, I Fell," sung by Elvis Presley in the film Wild in the Country, 1961)
  1. A Spice
    Love is a spice with many tastes--a dizzying array of textures and moments.
    (Wayne Knight as Newman in the final episode of Seinfeld, 1998)
  2. A Rose
    Love is a rose but you better not pick it.
    It only grows when it's on the vine.
    A handful of thorns and you'll know you've missed it.
    You lose your love when you say the word "mine."
    (Neil Young, "Love Is a Rose," 1977)
  1. A Garden
    Now that you're gone I can see
    That love is a garden if you let it go.
    It fades away before you know,
    And love is a garden--it needs help to grow.
    (Jewel and Shaye Smith, "Love Is a Garden," 2008)
  2. A Plant
    Love is a plant of the most tender kind,
    That shrinks and shakes with every ruffling wind.
    (George Granville, The British Enchanters, 1705)
  3. A Wild Plant
    Love is no hot-house flower, but a wild plant, born of a wet night, born of an hour of sunshine; sprung from wild seed, blown along the road by a wild wind.
    (John Galsworthy, The Man of Property, 1906)
  4. A Tree
    [L]ove needs new leaves every summer of life, as much as your elm-trees, and new branches to grow broader and wider, and new flowers at the root to cover the ground.
    (Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Chimney-Corner, 1868)
  5. A Cloud
    [Love] is the rosy cloud in the morning of life; and if it does too often resolve itself into the shower, yet, to my mind, it only makes our nature more fruitful in what is excellent and amiable.
    (Washington Irving, letter to Mrs. Foster, May 28, 1823)
  6. A Clash of Lightnings
    Oh, love is a journey with water and stars,
    with drowning air and storms of flour;
    love is a clash of lightnings,
    two bodies subdued by one honey.
    (Pablo Neruda, Sonnet 12, translated by Stephen Tapscott, 1960/1986)
  1. A Star
    [Love] is an ever-fixed mark
    That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
    It is the star to every wandering bark,
    Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
    (William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116, 1609)
  2. A Pilgrimage
    Real love is a pilgrimage. It happens when there is no strategy, but it is very rare because most people are strategists.
    (Anita Brookner, interview with Olga Kenyon, 1989)
  3. A Journey
    They say it is better to travel than to arrive. It's not been my experience, at least. The journey of love has been rather a lacerating, if well-worth-it, journey."
    (D.H. Lawrence, Fantasia of the Unconscious, 1922)
  4. A Truck
    Love is a truck and an open road,
    Somewhere to start and a place to go.
    (Mojave 3, "Truck Driving Man," 2006)
  5. A Truck and a Wall
    Love is a truck, love is a wall.
    It'll run you down or it's what you've gotta get over.
    (Connie Kaldor, "Love Is a Truck," 2000)
  1. A Dirt Road
    They say love is a two-way street. But I don't believe it, because the one I've been on for the last two years was a dirt road.
    (Terry McMillan, Waiting to Exhale, 1992)
  2. A Key
    Love is the master key that unlocks the gates of happiness, of hatred, of jealousy, and most easily of all, the gate of fear.
    (Oliver Wendell Holmes, A Moral Antipathy, 1885)
  3. A Bull
    Happiness is the china shop; love is the bull.
    (H.L. Mencken, A Little Book in C Major, 1916)
  4. A Beggar
    Love is a beggar, most importunate,
    Uncalled he comes and makes his dear demands.
    (Corinne Roosevelt Robinson, "Love Is a Beggar," 1912)
  5. A Homeless Guy
    And love is a homeless guy searching for treasure in the middle of the rain and finding a bag of gold coins and slowly finding out they're all filled with chocolate and even though he's heart broken, he can't complain because he was hungry in the first place.
    (Robert "Bo" Burnham, "Love Is . . .," 2009)
  6. An Alchemist and a Spaniel
    Love is an alchemist that can transmute poison into food--and a spaniel that prefers even punishment from one hand to caresses from another.
    (Charles Caleb Colton, Lacon: or, Many Things in Few Words, 1820)
  7. A Dog
    Love is a dog from hell.
    (Charles Bukowski, Love Is a Dog From Hell, 1977)

Continued on page two

Also see: 100 Sweet Similes

23. A Spark
Yes, love indeed is light from heaven;
A spark of that immortal fire.
With angels shared, by Alla given,
To lift from earth our low desire.
(Lord Byron, The Giaour, 1813)

24. A Flame
There lives within the very flame of love
A kind of wick or snuff that will abate it.
(William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1600?)

25. A Fierce Flame
And love's flame is superior to physical law in that, the less ventilation it has, the more fiercely it burns.


(Paul Leicester Ford, Janice Meredith, 1899)

26. A Blaze
Just so, thought I, the love of youth, which succeeds the crackling blaze of boyhood, makes a broader flame, though it may not be so easily kindled.
(Donald G. Mitchell, Reveries of a Bachelor, 1850)

27. A Flame and Burning Coals
Young love is a flame; very pretty, often very hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. The love of the older and disciplined heart is as coals, deep-burning, unquenchable."
(Henry Ward Beecher, quoted by Augusta Moore in Notes From Plymouth Pulpit, 1859)

28. A Fire
Love is a fire.
It burns everyone.
It disfigures everyone.
It is the world's excuse
for being ugly.
(Leonard Cohen, The Energy of Slaves, 1972)

29. A Fire
My faultless breast the furnace is,
The fuel wounding thorns;
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke,
The ashes, shame and scorns.
(Robert Southwell, "The Burning Babe," 1595)

30. A Fire
Love's fire, if it once goes out, is hard to kindle.


(German proverb)

31. Friendship on Fire
I heard once that love is friendship on fire. That's how I feel about you.
(Ben Feldman as Adam Forrest in The Perfect Man, 2005)

32. A Lasting Fire
But true love is a lasting fire,
Which viewless vestals tend,
That burnes for ever in the soule,
And knowes nor change, nor end.


(Anonymous, "As Ye Came From the Holy Land," 16th-century English ballad)

33. A Light
Love must be as much a light as a flame.
(Henry David Thoreau, letter, 1852)

34. A Volcano
Love unbridled is a volcano that burns down and lays waste all around it: it is an abyss that devours all--honour, substance and health.
(Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Psychopathia Sexualis, 1886)

35. An Exploding Cigar
Love is an exploding cigar we willingly smoke.
(Lynda Barry)

36. A Bird
Love's wing moults when caged and captured,
Only free he soars enraptured.
(Thomas Campbell, "Love's Philosophy," 1810)

37. A Hawk with Velvet Claws . . .
Love is a hawk with velvet claws;
Love is a rock with heart and veins;
Love is a lion with satin jaws;
Love is a storm with silken reins.
(from "The Kiss," a sonnet composed by a computer in Kurt Vonnegut's short story "EPICAC," 1968)

38. An Archer
[Love] is chary of using pointed shafts, and most of his target practice is done with heavy round-tipped arrows that leave an ugly black bruise where they strike, but do not draw the generous blood.
(F. Marion Crawford, Doctor Claudius, 1883)

39. A Hunter
The sharpest-sighted hunter in the universe is Love, for finding what he seeks, and only that."
(Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Beauty," 1860)

40. A Weapon
Love is the weapon which Omnipotence reserved to conquer rebel man when all the rest had failed. Reason he parries; fear he answers blow for blow; future interest he meets with present pleasure; but love is that sun against whose melting beams the winter cannot stand. There is not one human being in a million, nor a thousand men in all earth's huge quintillion whose clay heart is hardened against love.
(Martin Farquhar Tupper, "Crock of Gold," 1844)

41. An Outlaw
Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won't adhere to any rules. The most any of us can do is to sign on as its accomplice. Instead of vowing to honor and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet.
(Tom Robbins, Still Life With Woodpecker, 1981)

42. A Loaded Gun
One down, one to go,
Just another bullet in the chamber.
Sometimes love's a loaded gun .

. .
And it shoots to kill.
(Alice Cooper, "Love's a Loaded Gun," 1991)

43. A Treaty
And love is then no more than a compromise?
An impermanent treaty waiting to be signed,
By the two enemies?
(Thom Gunn, "To His Cynical Mistress," 1954)

44. A Battlefield
We are young,
heartache to heartache we stand.
No promises, no demands.
Love is a battlefield.
(Holly Knight and Mike Chapman, "Love Is A Battlefield," 1983)

45. A Battle
Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up."
(James Baldwin, "In Search of a Majority," 1960)

46. Warfare
Love is a kind of warfare.
(Ovid, The Art of Love, 1 BC)

47. A Perky Elf With a Machine Gun
Love is a perky elf dancing a merry little jig and then suddenly he turns on you with a miniature machine gun.
(Matt Groening's interpretation of Kierkegaard's view of love, Love Is Hell, 1985)

48. An Ogre
Virtue and Love are two ogres: one must eat the other.
(Sophie d'Houdetot)

49. A Brute
Passion's a good, stupid horse that will plough six days a week if you give him the run of his heels on Sundays. But love's a nervous awkward overmastering brute; if you can't rein him, it's best to have no truck with him.
(Lord Peter Wimsey in Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers, 1935)

50. A Magician
Love is the magician, the enchanter, that changes worthless things to joy, and makes right royal kings and queens of common clay.
(Robert Green Ingersoll, "Orthodoxy," 1884)

51. The Wild Card
Love is the wild card of existence.
(Rita Mae Brown, Animal Magnetism: My Life with Creatures Great and Small, 2009)

52. A Game
Love is a game at which one always cheats.
(attributed to Honoré de Balzac)

53. A Game
And if young love is just a game
Then I must have missed the kick off.
(Blink-182, "Going Away To College," 1999)

54. A Losing Game
For you I was the flame,
Love is a losing game.
Five-story fire as you came,
Love is a losing game.
(Amy Winehouse, "Love Is a Losing Game," 2006)

55. A Promise
Love is a promise delivered already broken.
(The Older Man in Steve Martin's play The Zig-Zag Woman, 1996)

56. The Poetry of the Senses
Love is the poetry of the senses.
(Honoré de Balzac, The Physiology of Marriage, 1829)

57. A Concerto
Harmony is pure love, for love is a concerto.
(Lope de Vega)

58. A Mix Tape
Love is a mix tape.
(Rob Sheffield, Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time, 2006)

59. A Work of Art
Love is a wondrous work of art,
But your love, oh your love, your love . . .
Is like a giant pigeon, crapping on my heart.
(Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe in the pilot episode of Friends, 1994)

60. A Canvas
Love is a canvas furnished by nature and embroidered by imagination.
(Voltaire)

Concluded on page three

See also: 100 Sweet Similes

61. A Fevered Dream
Love is a madness, love is a fevered dream,
A white soul lost in a field of scarlet flowers.
(Edgar Lee Masters, "Love Is a Madness," 1916)

62. A Madness
Love is merely a madness, and, I tell you, deserves as well a dark house and a whip as madmen do; and the reason why they are not so punish'd and cured is, that the lunacy is so ordinary that the whippers are in love too."
(Rosalind in William Shakespeare's As You Like It, 1599?)

63. A Madness
Love is a madness; if thwarted it develops fast; it can grow to a frenzy of despair and make an otherwise sane and highly gifted prince, like Rudolph, throw away the crown of an empire and snuff out his own life.
(Mark Twain, "The Memorable Assassination," 1898)

64. A Mental Disease
Love is a grave mental disease.
(Plato)

65. Mental Illness
Romantic love is mental illness. But it's a pleasurable one. It's a drug. It distorts reality, and that's the point of it. It would be impossible to fall in love with someone that you really saw.
(Fran Lebowitz, in an interview with Jon Winokur, 2007)

66. A Sickness
Love is a sickness full of woes,
All remedies refusing;
A plant that with most cutting grows,
Most barren with best using.
(Samuel Daniel, "Love Is a Sickness Full of Woes," 1607)

67. A Disease
I thought love would be my cure
But now it's my disease.
(Alicia Keyes, "Love Is My Disease," The Element Of Freedom, 2009)

68. A Disease
Is it natural for a man to fall in love? Love is a disease and disease knows no laws.
(Ivan Turgenev, Diary of a Superfluous Man, 1850)

69. A Disease
Love is a disease that kills nobody, but one whose time has come.
(Marguerite de Valois, 1552)

70. A Disease
Love is the only disease that makes you feel better.


(attributed to Sam Shepard)

71. An Addiction
We are smart enough not to buy into the oldest bit running: love. An addiction created by people to keep them from jumping out of windows.
(Gordon Gekko, Wall Street, 1987)

72. A Migraine
Love is a universal migraine.
A bright stain on the vision
Blotting out reason.
(Robert Graves, "Symptoms of Love")

73. A Fever
[Love] is a fever which tests our strength, and too often leads to perdition.
(George Meredith, The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, 1859)

74. A Vaccination
First love is a kind of vaccination which saves a man from catching the complaint the second time.
(Honoré de Balzac, The Member for Arcis)

75. A Debt
It is a dangerous experiment to call in gratitude as an ally to love. Love is a debt, which inclination always pays; obligation, never.
(Charles Caleb Colton, Lacon: or, Many Things in Few Words; Addressed to Those Who Think, 1820)

76. A Bubble
Love is a golden bubble, full of dreams,
That waking breaks, and fills us with extremes.
(George Chapman, Hero and Leander, 1598)

77. A Dessert
Love is only the dessert of life. The minute you try to live on dessert, you get sick of it, and you can get sicker of love than you can of anything else in the world.
(Dorothea Dix, quoted by Harnett Thomas Kane in Dear Dorothy Dix: The Story of a Compassionate Woman, 1952)

78. A River, a Razor . . .
Some say love, it is a river
that drowns the tender reed.
Some say love, it is a razor
that leaves your soul to bleed.
Some say love, it is a hunger,
an endless aching need.
I say love, it is a flower,
and you its only seed.
(Amanda McBroom, "The Rose," 1979)

79. A Crocodile
Love is a crocodile in the river of desire.
(Bhartṛhari, Śatakatraya, 5th century)

80. A Deep Blue Sea
Cause my love, my love is a deep blue sea
So deep, so deep that I'll never be free.
(Holly Golightly, "My Love Is," 2004)

81. An Ocean
Love is an ocean of emotion entirely surrounded by expenses.
(Sir Thomas Robert Dewar)

82. A Pearl
Love is a pearl; I, the diver; the sea, the tavern: I dove in there—where will I come up with air?
(Hafez, "Forty," 14th century; translated by Reza Ordoubadian, 2006)

83. A Hole in the Heart
Love is a hole in the heart.


(Ben Hecht, Winkelberg, 1950)

84. A Mask
Love is a mask, with death behind.
(William Bell, "To a Lady on Her Marriage")

85. A Thread
"No cord or cable can draw so forcibly, or bind so fast, as love can do with only a single thread."
(Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, 1621)

86. A Rope
Love is a Rope, for it ties
and holds us in its yoke
(Dutch poet Hadwijch, 1235- 1265)

87. A Razor
Love is a razor
So much stronger than me.
It sliced up the eraser
I was saving for your memory.
(Benji Hughes, "Love Is a Razor," 2008)

88. A Foreigner
Love is the bright foreigner, the foreign self.
(Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, 1849)

89. Baited Hooks
Farewell, Love, and all thy laws for ever.
Thy baited hooks shall tangle me no more.
(Thomas Wyatt, "Renouncing of Love")

90. A Cage
Love is a cage she's glad to be free of.
(Susan Mitchell, "Lost Parrot")

91. A Piano
Love is a piano dropped from a fourth story window,
And you were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
(Ani DiFranco, "Two Little Girls," 1998)

92. A Snowmobile
Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra; suddenly it flips over, pins you underneath, and at night the ice weasels come.
(Matt Groening's interpretation of Nietzsche's view of love, Love Is Hell, 1985)

93. A Rocket Ship
I'm a space bound rocket ship and your heart's in the moon
And I'm aiming right at you
Right at you
250 thousand miles on a clear night in June.
And I'm aiming right at you
Right at you
Right at you.
(Eminem, "Spacebound," 2010)

94. A Dunghill
"Love is a dunghill," said Harry. "And I'm the cock that gets on it to crow."
(Ernest Hemingway, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," 1936)

95. A Deep Well
Love is a deep well from which you may drink often, but into which you may fall but once.
(Ellye Howell Glover, Dame Curtsey's Book of Novel Entertainments, 1907)

96. A Time Machine
Love is a time machine,
Up on the silver screen.
It's all in my mind.
Love is a litany,
A magical mystery,
And all in good time . . ..
(Noel Gallagher of Oasis, "The Shock of the Lightning," 2008)

97. A Fart
Love is the fart
Of every heart;
It pains when 'tis kept close;
And others doth offend, when 'tis let loose.


(John Suckling, "Love's Offence," 1640)

98. A Jewel
Youth's for an hour,
Beauty's a flower,
But love is the jewel that wins the world.
(Moira O'Neill, "Beauty's a Flower," 1900)

99. A Smoke, a Fire, a Sea, a Madness
Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs;
Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers' eyes;
Being vexed, a sea nourished with loving tears;
What is it else? a madness most discreet,
A choking gall, and a preserving sweet.
(Romeo in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, 1597)

See also: 100 Sweet Similes