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Figurative Language

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Teacher/Instructor Katie Aquino
Katie Aquino

Writing, Grammar, Literature, ACT Prep
Education: M.Ed.,Stanford University

Katie is an enthusiastic teacher who strives to make connections between literature and student’s every day lives.

Figurative language is defined as taking words beyond their literal meaning. There are several types of figurative language such as similes, metaphors and personification. Similes are a comparison of 2 unlike things using the words 'like' or 'as.' Metaphors are a comparison of 2 unlike things not using words while personification gives

Let's talk about figurative language now. Figurative language is simply a way of making your words come off the page by taking them beyond their literal meaning, so taking them a step further. And there's three popular ways to use figurative language; the first is a simile. And that's when you compare two unlike things and use the words 'like' or 'as' like 'worked like a dog.' So we don't usually compare humans and dog but it helps give us that image of how hard you're working.
Metaphors are comparison as well, but those compare two unlike things but they don't use 'like' or 'as.' So the phrase 'you are what you eat' is a way of comparing you to what you eat without using 'like' or 'as.' The nice thing about metaphors is they can be short like that one, or they can be extended like in 'Lord of the flies,' the entire book is a metaphor for the Garden of Eden, the island is like the Garden of Eden, so he extends it throughout. And then there's personification and that helps create imagery because you give an inanimate object human qualities. So if you say, "the wind ran its fingers through my hair," clearly the wind doesn't have fingers but it creates that image of what the wind looked like when it was blowing through your hair.
So let's take a look at one of the most famous sonnets that exists by Shakespeare and let's see if we can identify similes, metaphors and any personification. So we've got "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun. Coral is far more red than her lips' red. If snow be white why then her breasts are dun, if hairs be wire, black wires grow on her head. I have seen roses damasked red and white, but no such roses see I in her cheeks and in some perfumes is there more delight than in the breath that from my mistress reeks. I love to hear her speak yet well I know that music hath a far more pleasing sound. I grant I never saw a goddess go. My mistress when she walks treads on the ground and yet by heaven, I think my love is rare as any she belied with false compare."
Alright so we've got this really strong image of what his love looks like or his mistress. And for the first, probably three quarters of the poem, a little bit more, it's not so great but it really paints a picture in our head. So as we're reading through, we've got a simile in this first line even though it's kind of a negative simile, right? 'My mistresses eyes are nothing like the sun,' we've got that comparison comparing the eyes and the sun, saying they are nothing alike. 'Coral is far more red than her lips red,' so we're getting a comparison of coral to her lips which would be a metaphor because we don't have the word 'like' or 'as.'
If snow be white, why then her breast are dun,' so again, the color of her breast being compared to white snow is a metaphor. 'If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head' and this is a good example of personification right? Wires can't grow, they're inanimate objects but we get this idea of what that wiry hair would look like in her head. Alright. He doesn't see roses in her cheek, so we've got roses being connected with cheeks as a metaphor. 'In some perfumes is there more delight than the breath that from my mistress reeks' I feel bad for this woman; but we've got breath being compared to perfume in a metaphor.
He talks about hearing her speak and music sounding much better; so music being compared to her speech and we see her compared to a goddess or the goddess to a mistress, with a metaphor. So here you will kind of see how Shakespeare used these devices, these items of figurative language in order to really paint a picture. And I'll let you kind of moul over those last two lines to see if this is really a love poem.