Glossary

Term: Simile


A simile is a comparison that claims the things being compared are similar, rather than the metaphor's claim that the two things are the same. This usually appears as "A is like B", or "C is as friendly as a D". Penelope Shuttle's description, in 'Thief', of "the forest like a perfumed, pampered room wet with solitude" is a simile, as is Charles Simic's 'Fork', as 'It resembles a bird's foot'.

A simile is a less forceful use of figurative language than a metaphor is - it is easier to believe that a heron is like an undertaker than to believe that a heron is an undertaker - which some people take to mean less good, or less powerful. It's worth holding in mind that a poet may want to create the subtler effect that a less forceful tool achieves, to use a comparison that draws less attention to itself, or to maintain that, although these two things are alike, they are not identical. In the case of 'Machines', by Michael Donaghy, the conceit of the poem is introduced as a simile, in a way that draws attention to the act of comparing them and the cleverness that maintains the comparison of two disparate things.

How to use this term

The use of simile in Vicki Feaver's 'Slow Reader', in which a young boy "toys with words / letting them go cold / as gristly meat", neatly shows how unpleasant the boy finds the words without insisting that they are so.

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