My favorite description of how metaphor functions in a poem (or any writing, for that matter) comes from The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser (U.S. Poet Laureate 2004-2006). Kooser quotes “November” by Linda Pastan. Despite the title, a few lines of the poem refer to springtime, when
the trees like gnarled magicians
out of empty branches.
Which is timely, now that the trees in my backyard (one of which is shown here) are performing the same trick. Metaphors, Kooser explains,
“are good examples of things being greater than the sum of their parts — two parts to each metaphor: the tenor (in this instance the tree) and the vehicle (the magician). A carefully controlled metaphor, like any clearly observed association of two dissimilar things or events, can excite the responses of readers because it gives them a glimpse of an order that they might not otherwise have become aware of. If you think of a metaphor as being a bridge between two things, it’s not the things that are of the most importance, but the grace and lift of the bridge between them, flying high over the surface. To begin writing a poem around a metaphor gets the author a head start toward poetry that has integral order and transcends the mere sum of its accumulated words.” (p. 135)
A good metaphor sticks with you and shapes the way you view the world. I’m still thinking about a certain gnarled magician: