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What is an Extended Metaphor? Let Will Ferrell tell you.

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What is an extended metaphor? We could introduce it. Or we could let Will Ferrell do it. This epic extended metaphor from his 2003 Harvard Commencement speech will tell you everything you need to know. (And then we’ll fill you in afterward, just in case…) This video is queued up to the right spot:

Extended Metaphor

Definition: A metaphor that continues over multiple sentences, and that is sometimes extended throughout an entire work.

Why Writers Use it: Extended metaphors allow writers to draw a larger comparison between two things or ideas. In rhetoric, they allow the audience to visualize a complex idea in a memorable way or tangible. They highlight a comparison in a more intense way than simple metaphors or similes.

If someone was unloving, you could simply say that their heart was ice. But if you wanted to really drive home the point, you might say, “Their heart was icy, their blood frosty, their ventricles filled with icicles, their words turning to ice cubes that would chill an already chilly iced tea.” This example also elucidates the dangers of extended metaphor. When used poorly, extended metaphors can be a little much.

Your Heart

Your heart

These examples are a little bit longer than normal. But that’s only natural; these are extended metaphors after all! Too much to read? Check out our short and sweet simile lesson.

Extended Metaphor Examples in Hip-Hop

“But if you was LeBron James then I’d be Dwyane Wade
We both graduated at the same time from the same grade
He was at the head of the class, on TV with celebrity acts,
But that champion ring was one thing you never could grasp,
I was slightly rated lower had to fight to gain exposure
and that might’ve made me slower
but now I have taken over
And I’m down in Miami’s Heat,
living my boyhood dreams
And for you to do what I’ve done,
you’d have to join MY team!”
-Iron Solomon

“Run on the track like Jesse Owens
Broke the record flowin’, without any knowin’
That my wordplay run the four hundred meter relay
It’s on once I grab the baton from the DJ
A athlete with his iron cleat in the ground
Wildest who sprint off the gun sound
The best time yet still seven-point-zero
Swift flow made the cameramen clothes blow.”

Extended Metaphor in Shakespeare and Literature

Perhaps the most famous extended metaphor of all…
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.”
-Shakespeare’s As You Like It

But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief…—Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare’s famous Sonnet 18 is one long extended metaphor. We rap the sonnet here! Listen in.

Check out the lyrics and more.Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

Hope by Emily Dickinson

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.

Other Extended Metaphor Examples

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

“The tumor is Al-Qaeda. We went in and wiped it out, but it had already sent out a splinter cell–a small team of low-level terrorists quietly living in some suburb of Buffalo, waiting to kill us all.”
-The TV show House

Check Out the Previous Literary Terms in the Series


Share your best examples of extended metaphor in the comments!

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