What Is a Creative Metaphor?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

creative metaphor
This visual metaphor may also be regarded as a creative metaphor. (Shawn Harris/Getty Images)

A creative metaphor is an original comparison that calls attention to itself as a figure of speech. Also known as a poetic metaphor, literary metaphor, novel metaphor, and unconventional metaphor. Contrast with conventional metaphor and dead metaphor. American philosopher Richard Rorty characterized the creative metaphor as a challenge to established schemes and conventional perceptions: "A metaphor is, so to speak, a voice from outside logical space. It is a call to change one's language and one's life, rather than a proposal about how to systematize them" ("Metaphor as the Growing Point of Language," 1991).

Examples and Observations

  • "Her tall black-suited body seemed to carve its way through the crowded room."
    (Josephine Hart, Damage, 1991)
  • "Fear is a slinking cat I find
    Beneath the lilacs of my mind."
    (Sophie Tunnell, "Fear")
  • "The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
    Petals on a wet, black bough."
    (Ezra Pound, "In a Station of the Metro")
  • Yeats's "Dolphin-torn . . . Sea"
    "Those images that yet
    Fresh images beget,
    That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea."
    (W.B. Yeats, "Byzantium")
    - "Although this last line is acutely visual, its three main items, dolphin, gong and sea are as much literal as metaphoric elements of the scene: the poem had begun with the cathedral gong ringing out over the sea, and had gone on to speak of the dolphins in the waters around Byzantium. Of course, dolphin and gong also 'stand for' something else--the vitality of the living animal, the majesty and authority of religion over the spirit, but they do this primarily as images. Direct metaphor is reduced to a subordinate position here, in the words 'torn' and 'tormented,' since neither of them can literally be applied to water. The first very vividly catches the force with which the dolphin leaps from and returns to its elements. The second communicates the extent to which that element is troubled by the demands of the spiritual."
    (Stan Smith, W.B. Yeats: A Critical Introduction. Rowman & Littlefield, 1990)
    - "By using metaphors, much more can be conveyed, through implication and connotation, than through straightforward, literal language. Take the case of . . . that literary metaphor dolphin-torn: what exactly is Yeats suggesting about the sea, and how else could this have been expressed? Just as writers convey meaning more open-endedly when they use metaphorical language, readers interpret less narrowly than they would literal language. So meaning is communicated between writer and reader in a less precise way, even though the metaphors may seem concrete and vivid. It is this imprecision, this 'fuzziness' of meaning, which makes metaphor such a powerful tool in the communication of emotion, evaluation, and explanation too."
    (Murray Knowles and Rosamund Moon, Introducing Metaphor. Routledge, 2006)
  • Creative Metaphors Outside Literature
    "The 'chaotic' category 'creative metaphor' includes typically literary examples such as 'novel metaphors' and 'poetic metaphors.' The crucial question is, however, whether it is possible to extend this category beyond literary examples. If this is possible--and an examination of the terms 'creative' and 'creativity' suggests that it is--then it will be possible to find many creative metaphors even in political discourse which is, actually, not very famous for being creative."
    (Ralph Mueller, "Critical Metaphors of Creative Metaphors in Political Speeches." Researching and Applying Metaphor in the Real World, ed. by Graham Low, Zazie Todd, Alice Deignan, and Lynne Cameron. John Benjamins, 2010)
  • Communicating Through Metaphors
    - "Even though our individual stories are different, we communicate through the common language of metaphor by embodying our ideas in images and details. By ruminating upon ourselves, we also conjure stories of others. By this acknowledgment of others' experiences, we address a whole range of social, political, and cultural issues.
    "It's impossible to live every life, fight every war, battle every illness, belong to every tribe, believe in every religion. The only way we come close to the whole experience is by embracing what we see both inside and outside the window of the page."
    (Sue William Silverman, Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir. University of Georgia Press, 2009)
    - "The ground of appropriateness for a new insight provided by a creative metaphor--the compelling condition of the new similarity, what suggests that it 'fits'--cannot be restricted to a complex of established perspectives. For it is this complex, or some part of it, that is challenged by the new insight."
    (Carl R. Hausman, Metaphor and Art. Cambridge University Press, 1989)

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "What Is a Creative Metaphor?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/what-is-creative-metaphor-1689940. Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). What Is a Creative Metaphor? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-creative-metaphor-1689940 Nordquist, Richard. "What Is a Creative Metaphor?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-creative-metaphor-1689940 (accessed June 8, 2023).