“I am one of many
Small branches of a broken tree,
Always looking to the ones above
For guidance, strength and security.”

From a poem by Lori McBride

A metaphor is an imaginative way of describing something by referring to something else which is the same in a particular way. For example, if you want to say that someone is very shy and frightened of things, you might say that they are a mouse. In Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Romeo says, “Juliet is my sun,” suggesting that she is the most important force in his life, bringing him light and warmth. In the poem above, the author compares herself to small branches of a broken tree. She is similar to them because she is just as vulnerable and weak.

Thus, metaphors are often used in poetry and literature. Here is another example of a poem with metaphors:

“Mighty Oak” by Kathy J Parenteau

Stand tall, oh mighty*oak, for all the world to see.
Your strength and undying beauty forever amazes me.
Though storm clouds hover* above you,
Your branches span* the sky
In search of the radiant* sunlight you
Count on to survive.
When the winds are high and restless and
You lose a limb* or two,
It only makes you stronger.
We could learn so much from you.
Though generations have come and gone
And brought about* such change,
Quietly you’ve watched them all,
Yet still remained the same.
I only pray God gives to me
The strength he’s given you
To face each day with hope,
Whether skies are black or blue.
Life on earth is truly a gift.
Every moment we must treasure.
It’s the simple things we take for granted*
That become our ultimate* pleasures.

  • mighty (mainly literary) – very large, powerful, or impressive
  • to hover /ˈhɒvə(r)/ – to stay in the same position in the air without moving forwards or backwards
  • to span (sth.) – to include the whole of an area
  • radiant /ˈreɪdiənt/ – very bright
  • limb /lɪm/ – a large branch on a tree
  • to bring sth. about – to make something happen, especially to cause changes in a situation
  • to take sth. for granted – to expect something always to happen or exist in a particular way
  • ultimate /ˈʌltɪmət/ – supreme, highest, greatest

In “Mighty Oak,” the poet describes the tree as a person – having qualities which people can have – for example, strength and wisdom. Trees can be strong too, can’t they? And they can live long, just like people, and the older a person gets, the wiser they become. This is how trees and human beings are similar, at least in the poem. Then, the poet uses the verb “hover” to describe what storm clouds do. Usually, we use “hover” to talk about birds and insects because they can keep themselves in the same position in the air by moving their wings very quickly. Although clouds don’t have wings, they can possibly be compared to living creatures like birds, for they can “look down” on people and trees from up above, especially if they are storm clouds.

Do you see any other metaphors in “Mighty Oak”? What are they? Please share your findings and thoughts in the comments.

Stand tall, oh mighty oak, for all the world to see…

As a matter of fact, metaphors are often used not only in literature, but also in everyday conversation. The language of idioms seems to suggest that English speakers see work and business life as a kind of war, with many work and business idioms based on images connected with war and fighting. For example:

  • to launch a marketing campaign (in a war, a campaign is a series of planned movements carried out by armed forces, and in business it’s a series of certain planned movements too, but this time you try to win a business war)
  • to join/combine forces (a force is a group of people doing military (or police) work, and if 2 countries join their forces, it may be easier for them to win a war; 2 companies combine forces to achieve a shared goal too)
  • a minefield (the basic meaning of the word is an area where bombs have been hidden, but it can also mean a situation or process with many possible problems or dangers, and there are a lot of minefields in business, aren’t there?)
  • to be a casualty (a casualty is someone who is injured or killed in an accident or military action, but if a company is a casualty of a bad economic situation, it’s like a casualty of a business war – it’s badly affected by it)
  • to pull rank on sb. (a rank is someone’s official position in the armed forces, but if your boss pulls rank on you, he or she uses the fact that they are more important or powerful than you in order to force you to do what they want, so your boss is like an officer, and you are like a soldier)
  • to be given one’s marching orders (if soldiers are given their marching orders, they are told to march, and if your boss gives you your marching orders, he or she tells you to leave because you are no longer needed or employed – both you and the soldiers march – they do it down streets, and you do it leaving the office)


Understanding = seeing:

  • to see the light – to understand or realize something after prolonged thought or doubt: It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I saw the light and started to work hard.
  • to see sense/reason – to be reasonable and have good judgment: We talked to her for an hour, but we couldn’t make her see sense.
  • to see the point – to understand the importance of sth.: They couldn’t see the point of more training.

Life = journey:

  • to be getting nowhere – to fail completely to make any progress: We’re getting nowhere with these problems.
  • at a crossroads – at a stage in life when one needs to make an important decision: My country is at a crossroads.
  • uncharted territory/waters – an activity or subject that people don’t know anything about or haven’t experienced before: It is a completely uncharted territory for me.

Emotion = color:

  • to see red – to get very angry: People who don’t finish a job really make me see red.
  • black mark – sth. you have done that affects your reputation in a bad way: If I’m late for work again, it will be another black mark against me.
  • in the pink (old-fashioned) – healthy and happy: He was sick last week, but he’s in the pink again.

Life = gamble

  • to have an ace up your sleeve – to have a secret or hidden advantage that you can use when you need it: You have an ace up your sleeve, and I’m tired of waiting for you to play it.
  • to call sb.’s bluff – to ask sb. to do what they are threatening to do because you believe they don’t intend to do it, but want to trick you in order to gain an advantage over you: She was tempted to call his bluff, hardly believing he’d carry out his threat.
  • to be on the cards (British English) / to be in the cards (American English) – to be very likely to happen: “So you think they’ll get married next year?” “I think it’s on the cards.”
Do you have an ace up your sleeve?

Materials used: “English Idioms in Use Advanced” by F.O’Dell and M.McCarthy

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