AlienFlower Blog

Where poetry-lovers practice poetry

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Subject: Metaphors
To: aliflo,


I require some help regarding the definitions of descriptive, organic and structural metaphors. What definitions I have found are very vague and do not give me enough data with which to differentiate between the different definitions.

Any help that you could give me would be most welcome.


Chris Hamilton


Dear Chris,

Thank you for sending your question. My first thought is for us to search for poetry dictionaries that clearly define these terms. In my search this morning on the internet, I have not found anything yet. I will keep searching for dictionary definitions and share any new information.

Let's start with organic metaphor (vs dead metaphor?). I found Alfred J. Drake, Ph.D.'s web page on Organic Metaphor:

He begins his text by quoting The Portable Coleridge (Samuel Taylor Coleridge):

"Coleridge says that "the spirit of poetry" must "circumscribe itself by rules"; it must "embody [itself] in order to reveal itself.""

Does organic metaphor "embody" the poem?


Tim Love's article (link shared below) asks,
(in reference to descriptive metaphor?):

"Are they metaphors of animals, or nature, or politics?? Maybe the image that is used is of importance in the reader's understanding of the stories."


Structural metaphor is defined on the Summer Institute of Linguistics web site:

"A structural metaphor is a conventional metaphor in which one concept is understood and expressed in terms of another structured, sharply defined concept."

Example: "I demolished his argument."


I am curious to know what definitions you have you found so far, even though they are vague. Will you share them with us please? And also what definitions might any other AlienFlower reader have to share with us?


Metaphor in poetry enlivens, paints a better visual image with words, adds depth and breathes life, and brings beauty and understanding that might otherwise be lost to the reader. I found a metaphor essay written by British Teacher Tim Love on Tim's Web site:


The University of Oregon is home to the Metaphor Center:


And I found a web site article that discusses "Making Sense of Metaphor" as it relates to the American legal discourse and system. There is discussion of cultural uses of language and metaphor. Here is one of the reviews quotes of the article:

"In 'Making Sense of Metaphors', Professor Bernard Hibbitts mines the richest possible vein of understanding, one that leads directly to the heart of the transformations affecting not just contemporary legal discourse but also the nature and structure of our entire legal system. Words and language are not a mere assemblage of clich├ęs or conceptual archetypes: they serve as an organ of collective perception. And metaphor is the matrix of all verbal activity. The media of the last century and a half have rendered written codes obsolete: the electronic word is oral and kinesthetic and invested with a paradoxical permanence far more stable than that which writing can confer. In this provocative analysis of the medium, Professor Hibbitts uncovers the patterns of change that inform present events and will continue to do so for generations to come."

Eric McLuhan
Co-author (with Marshall McLuhan), The Laws of Media; co-editor (with Frank Zingrone), The Essential McLuhan

"A truly astonishing article...surely one of the most significant of contributions to the relative role of the senses in social life."

John Urry
Professor of Sociology
Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK
Author, The Tourist Gaze


Here is the general definition of metaphor for those who like dictionary definitions:




1. A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison, as in “a sea of troubles” or “All the world's a stage” (Shakespeare).
2. One thing conceived as representing another; a symbol: “Hollywood has always been an irresistible, prefabricated metaphor for the crass, the materialistic, the shallow, and the craven” (Neal Gabler).

[Middle English methaphor, from Old French metaphore, from Latin metaphora, from Greek, transference, metaphor, from metapherein, to transfer : meta-, meta- + pherein, to carry; see bher-1 in Indo-European Roots.]

n : a figure of speech in which an expression is used to refer to something that it does not literally denote in order to suggest a similarity

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