Extended Metaphor Definition and Examples

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

An extended metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things that continues throughout a series of sentences in a paragraph or lines in a poem. Also known as a conceit or a megametaphor.

Extended metaphor is a common literary device, particularly in poetry. The various elements or images in an extended metaphor may fit together or complement one another in different ways. As David Punter notes, the "endpoint of extended metaphorical processes is allegory" (Metaphor, 2007).

Examples and Observations

  • "Bobby Holloway says my imagination is a three-hundred-ring circus. Currently I was in ring two hundred and ninety-nine, with elephants dancing and clowns cartwheeling and tigers leaping through rings of fire. The time had come to step back, leave the main tent, go buy some popcorn and a Coke, bliss out, cool down."
    (Dean Koontz, Seize the Night. Bantam, 1999)
  • "It never takes longer than a few minutes, when they get together, for everyone to revert to the state of nature, like a party marooned by a shipwreck. That’s what a family is. Also the storm at sea, the ship, and the unknown shore. And the hats and the whiskey stills that you make out of bamboo and coconuts. And the fire that you light to keep away the beasts."
    (Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. Harper, 2007)

Emily Dickinson's Extended Metaphor: Hope as a "Little Bird"

"Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune—without the words,
And never stops at all,

"And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.



"I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me."
(Emily Dickinson)

Charles Dickens's Extended Metaphor: Rooks and Clergymen

"Whosoever has observed that sedate and clerical bird, the rook, may perhaps have noticed that when he wings his way homeward towards nightfall, in a sedate and clerical company, two rooks will suddenly detach themselves from the rest, will retrace their flight for some distance, and will there poise and linger; conveying to mere men the fancy that it is of some occult importance to the body politic, that this artful couple should pretend to have renounced connection with it.

"Similarly, service being over in the old Cathedral with the square tower, and the choir scuffling out again, and divers venerable persons of rook-like aspect dispersing, two of these latter retrace their steps, and walk together in the echoing Close." (Charles Dickens, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, 1870)

Mark Twain's Extended Metaphor in Life on the Mississippi

"One day [Mr. Bixby] turned on me suddenly with this settler—

"'What is the shape of Walnut Bend?'

"He might as well have asked me my grandmother's opinion of protoplasm. I reflected respectfully, and then said I didn't know it had any particular shape. My gunpowdery chief went off with a bang, of course, and then went on loading and firing until he was out of adjectives.

"I had learned long ago that he only carried just so many rounds of ammunition, and was sure to subside into a very placable and even remorseful old smooth-bore as soon as they were all gone." (Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi, 1883)

Allegory and Extended Metaphor

"Allegory is often described as extended metaphor, but the description is only acceptable if 'extended' refers to the linguistic expression while 'metaphor' refers to the conceptual structure. Crisp (2005: 124-125), for instance, claims that 'Extended metaphor .

. . is different from allegory because it contains language that relates directly to both the source and target.' Allegory, by contrast, typically only has language which evokes what may be seen as the elaborated source domain." (Gerard Steen, Finding Metaphor in Grammar and Usage: A Methodological Analysis of Theory and Research. John Benjamins, 2007)

Literary Language

"'Extended metaphor' can thus be defined as literary (as opposed to ordinary-language) metaphors that are consciously (as opposed to out of necessity) sustained throughout a text or discourse (as opposed to isolated use). Werth (1994: 84) contends that this type of metaphor is an exclusive property of literary texts. He also has a footnote that draws attention to the use of sustained metaphor in advertising." (Ingrid Piller, "Extended Metaphor in Automobile Fan Discourse." Poetics Today, Autumn 1999)

Strether's Extended Metaphor in The Ambassadors

"Unless she hid herself altogether she could show but as one of these, an illustration of his domiciled and indeed of his confirmed condition. And the consciousness of all this in her charming eyes was so clear and fine that as she thus publicly drew him into her boat she produced in him such a silent agitation as he was not to fail afterwards to denounce as pusillanimous. 'Ah don't be so charming to me!—for it makes us intimate, and after all what is between us when I've been so tremendously on my guard and have seen you but half a dozen times?' He recognized once more the perverse law that so inveterately governed his poor personal aspects: it would be exactly like the way things always turned out for him that he should affect Mrs. Pocock and Waymarsh as launched in a relation in which he had really never been launched at all. They were at this very moment—they could only be—attributing to him the full licence of it, and all by the operation of her own tone with him; whereas his sole licence had been to cling with intensity to the brink, not to dip so much as a toe into the flood. But the flicker of his fear on this occasion was not, as may be added, to repeat itself; it sprang up, for its moment, only to die down and then go out for ever. To meet his fellow visitor's invocation and, with Sarah's brilliant eyes on him, answer, was quite sufficiently to step into her boat. During the rest of the time her visit lasted he felt himself proceed to each of the proper offices, successively, for helping to keep the adventurous skiff afloat. It rocked beneath him, but he settled himself in his place. He took up an oar and, since he was to have the credit of pulling, pulled." (Henry James, The Ambassadors, 1903)

The Lighter Side of Extended Metaphors: Will Ferrell's University of Life

"I graduated from the University of Life. All right? I received a degree from the School of Hard Knocks. And our colors were black and blue, baby. I had office hours with the Dean of Bloody Noses.

All right? I borrowed my class notes from Professor Knuckle Sandwich and his Teaching Assistant, Ms. Fat Lip Thon Nyun. That’s the kind of school I went to for real, okay?" (Will Ferrell, Commencement Address at Harvard University, 2003)

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Nordquist, Richard. "Extended Metaphor Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo, Apr. 26, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-is-an-extended-metaphor-1690698. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, April 26). Extended Metaphor Definition and Examples. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-an-extended-metaphor-1690698 Nordquist, Richard. "Extended Metaphor Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-an-extended-metaphor-1690698 (accessed September 21, 2017).