An Introduction to the Extended Metaphor by Vus’umuzi Phakathi

Vus’umuzi Phakathi | June 23rd, 2021 | writing craft | No Comments

Metaphor is a figure of speech that makes a direct comparison between two things that are unrelated, but which share common characteristics. It is the use of one thing based on its characteristics to give clarity on the mechanics and/or behaviour of another.

A metaphor has two parts: the TARGET and the SOURCE.
The Target is the subject to which characteristics are assigned. The Source is the object whose characteristics are borrowed.

Example: “His eyes are lanterns that shone from the dark valleys of Zululand to see white swallows coming from the sea…” – The Birth of Shaka by Oswald M Mtshali

The Source: Lanterns
The Target: Eyes
Borrowed characteristic: The emission of Light; the ability to illuminate surrounding space.

Extended Metaphor also known as a conceit or sustained metaphor is an author’s exploitation of a single metaphor at length through multiple linked targets, and sources throughout a poem or story.

Lets have a look at an incredible use of an Extended Metaphor from Khalil Gibran’s Children from his book The Prophet:

“You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. 
The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. 
Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness; 
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

In this extract we find four Sources (Objects):

  1. Archery – Primary Source – Setting
  2. The Bows – Secondary Source
  3. Arrows – Secondary Source
  4. Archer – Secondary Source

Therefore four Targets (Subjects):

  1. Life – Primary Target – Setting
  2. Parents – Secondary Target
  3. Children – Secondary Target
  4. God – Secondary Target

NB: The effective execution of a metaphor is aided by a Concept that serves as the Setting for the piece; in the abstract Gibran choses Archery as his concept.

Gibran borrows the characteristics of a bow to best describe the role of a parent, those of an arrow that role of a child, that of an archer those of God. He then expresses to relationship between the objects to elucidate that of the subjects. The consistency and accuracy of the relationship between the objects brings a vivid understanding to that of the subjects.

NB: The Lexicon of the piece, that is the vocabulary of the poem, must be strictly chosen to suit the setting developed from the choice of concept. Words and phrases used must exist in the chosen setting, unless there’s an introduction of a variant concept.

The key words and phrases that form part of the lexicon of the piece include:
Mark, bends, swift and far, Archer’s hands, arrow that flies, bow that is stable.


  1. Find a poem that contains an extended metaphor.
  2. Identify the targets, sources, concept/setting, and borrowed characteristics.
  3. Identify specific key words that form part of the lexicon of the particular poem
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