by Carol Ann Duffy, Helen Taylor and Gillian Clarke
Three poems follow, by Gillian Clarke, Emily Dickinson, and Year 2 children at Glyncorrwg School in South Wales. Read the first poem aloud to the class. It is always important to hear a poem out loud, and for children to read poems aloud for themselves. If the class is divided into groups, after a few minutes reading quietly, one child in each group could attempt to read it to the others, slowly and clearly, in a low voice of course.
Now explain, using this piece, what a simile is. Similes and metaphors are doing the same thing. They make a link in the reader’s mind between two images. A metaphor uses one image to suggest another without using the word ‘like’. A simile is more direct. The word ‘like’, or ‘as’, is used to make the link.
Under stones, under sacks of potatoes,
fast asleep all winter they hunker
deep down under the coal in the bunker.
Then we come along with shovel and hod
to plunder their wonderful city. We tread
with great care, and then, one by one,
we lift them into the new spring sun.
They’re sleepy as children on Daddy’s shoulder
when nights were darker and days were colder.
But wake up! Warm up! Time to be stirring.
Spring is here and the whole world’s purring.
Discuss the meaning. Help the class with any difficulty. Talk about newts. Are newts like dinosaurs? In what way? Why are they ‘dreamers’? Why are they ‘sleepy’? As sleepy as - what? Does the comparison make sense?
There are two metaphors and one simile in Gillian Clarke’s poem. Spot the simile! Find the metaphors! (Clue: the simile is about newts, one metaphor is about where they live, one about the world in spring.)
Look for double rhymes, single rhymes and half rhymes. Do they help to make the poem work?
Here is Emily Dickinson's poem ‘There Came a Wind Like a Bugle’:
There Came a Wind Like a Bugle
There came a Wind like a Bugle -
It quivered through the Grass
And a Green Chill upon the Heat
So ominous did pass
We barred the Windows and the Doors
As from an Emerald Ghost -
The Doom’s electric Moccasin
That very instant passed -
On a strange Mob of panting Trees
And Fences fled away
And Rivers where the Houses ran
Those looked that lived - that Day-
The Bell within the steeple wild
The flying tidings told -
How much can come,
How much can go,
And yet abide the World!
This poem was written over a hundred years ago. Emily Dickinson was born in 1831 in America, and she died in 1886. She wrote 900 poems. Not one poem was published in her lifetime. She used very strange punctuation, almost no commas or full stops, but lots of dashes. Only the end of the line and the meaning shows us when to pause. She used capital letters for words she wanted us to notice specially, as many poets did in the 19th century.
It may take a few readings to work it out, but it is a very striking poem describing a tremendous wind, probably a tornado. There were a few warning signs. First the wind ‘quivered through the grass’. Then there was a ‘green chill upon the heat’. The family had just enough time to bar the windows and doors before its full force hit them. In America such winds are called ‘twisters’.
Get the class to read Emily Dickinson’s description of the damage the wind did, and look at the language and her choice of words.
Here is a simple way to help the class see the difference between 1) simile and 2) metaphor:
a) The sea is like a wild horse.
b) The sea is skittish as a wild horse
a) The sea is a wild horse.
b) The sea gallops on the sand.
c) The sea shakes its mane.
d) The sea rears.
Now ask the class to find the simile. Then ask them to spot the metaphors. Finally, does using such language and imagery help us to imagine the storm?
The group poem by the Glyncorrwg children illustrates simile very well. The class talked about what a snowman was like. They decided it was like a candle. They had both images in their minds when they called out the lines and Gillian Clarke wrote them down. This little poem could just as easily be called ‘The Candle’. Although they were only 6 years old, once they got the idea they had more ideas than they could use.
He shines like a candle
and melts slowly.
He is white and black
and gets smaller all the time.
He is white as feathers
and white horses and snow.
He glows in the dark
like a glow-worm.
He stands on a flat place
and makes a shadow in the light.
He crumples in a circle
like a circus tent.
He turns to ice and slush
like a camel’s hump.
He runs away like milk
and melts like moonlight in sunshine.
In the morning he has gone
like the moon.
Taking the above examples, ask the class to choose a subject, like the wind, the sea, the river, the city, and to think about one thing it is like. Then they should write one example of a simile, and then find several ways to compare the SAME two things, using metaphor.
Ask the class to look in the library for information about tornadoes. They might find a picture of one. There may also be pictures of the damage a tornado can do.
Write a newspaper report of an imagined tornado.
The poet calls the wind an ‘Emerald Ghost’. What would the children call a violent wind? Collect similes and metaphors from the class, and display them. Seeing each other’s ideas around the classroom will help everyone to get the idea.
Let them write Emily Dickinson’s diary for the day of the storm.
Get them to write about the fiercest storm or any extreme weather they can remember. They could write about it using one simile and one extended metaphor. (Example of this in the sea/ wild horse piece above)
Let the class do some research about newts and other creatures in the same category. Let each child choose a creature and write about it using at least one simile and at least one metaphor.
Most poets use simile and metaphor to describe what they experience. They are fun to use because they surprise both the poet and the reader.