A metaphor is a type of “figurative language” used in imagery.
It’s best used to make a connection between things your listener can easily identify with quickly. The first thing in the comparison adds context and meaning to the second thing for the listener.
This can be tough to pull off in a song when it’s flying by in 3 minutes.
So how can you do it effectively?
Let’s Start With Defining Imagery
Imagery is the representation of one thing by another thing using vivid or “figurative language” to represent objects, actions, or ideas.
Imagery uses four types of “figurative language”:
Unlike a simile, a metaphor isn’t a direct comparison using “like” or “as.” Instead, it’s an implied connection between two things. The two things are usually very different, with an understanding of the first being necessary to give meaning to the thing being defined.
As Pat Pattison describes it: “In it’s most basic form, metaphor is a collision between ideas that don’t belong together. It jams them together and leaves us to struggle with the consequences.”
Three Types of Metaphors
1 Expressed Identity, or an implied connection between two nouns.
There are three particular patterns for an expressed identity metaphor. Some examples using a few John Gorka songs:
X is Y (night is a woman)
The Y of X (the frailty of night)
X’s Y (night’s frailty)
2 Qualifying metaphor, is created through the qualification of a noun by an adjective; a verb by an adverb and whatever else we were taught to diagram in school (didn’t think you would need it – did you?).
“Brash fields, crude crows” from Joni Mitchell’s “Turbulent Indigo”
“smoky conversation” or “warm words” from Nanci Griffith’s “More Than A Whisper”
3 Verbal metaphor, is created by the tension between the verb and its subject/object.
“holding infinities in the palm of your hand” from Sting’s “Send Your Love”
“the wing and the wheel carry me away” from Nanci Griffith’s “Wing And The Wheel”
Pat Pattison’s book Writing Better Lyrics is an excellent resource for understanding metaphors.
He also has a great song lyric comparison showing how the use of a metaphor or a simile within your song can change the dynamics.
Lyrics Quick Tip
When you have several comparisons in mind, use simile, not a metaphor – but make sure they work together!