English MetaphorsLangston Hughes was an American poet, novelist and playwright who wrote in the first part of the 20th century. He was part of the Harlem Renaissance, an artistic movement of the time in which black writers, musicians and artists were to the forefront of the cultural movement.

In order to fully understand Langston’s poetry it is important to be aware that he used a lot of metaphors and similes in his writing to convey his thoughts.


A metaphor is a figure of speech. It makes a comparison between two or more nouns that are not obviously similar but are alike in an important way.

Here are some examples:

Life is a rollercoaster = the ups and downs of life are compared to the ups and downs of a rollercoaster.
He has a heart of stone = the coldness of someone’s heart is compared to that of a stone.
Don’t worry, there are plenty more fish in the sea = this is a commonly heard statement made to someone after the breakdown of a relationship. It compares the millions of fish in the sea to the multitude of possible other mates available.

Below is the poem Dreams by Langston Hughes.
Can you spot the two metaphors he uses to communicate that our dreams are important and they should not be forgotten?

By Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

How did you get on? Did you spot the metaphors? They are:

Life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly and

Life is a barren field frozen with snow


Hughes also used many similes in his writing.

A simile, like a metaphor, is a figure of speech that makes a comparison between two nouns. However, it differs from the metaphor in that it uses like or as to communicate the comparison.

Here are some examples:

Her skin was as white as snow.

In her new dress, she looked as pretty as a picture.

He was as slow as a snail in that race.

She was very ill and looked like death.

Dad smokes 100 cigarettes a day. He smokes like a chimney.

Mary eats very fast. She eats like a pig.

Here is another poem by Langston Hughes. This one is also about dreams but instead of metaphors, it has many similes to communicate its meaning.

See how many similes you can count in the poem?

Dream Deferred
By Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore–
And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

How did you do? Did you get 5?

1. Like a raisin in the sun
2. Or fester like a sore
3. Does it stink like rotten meat?
4. like a syrupy sweet?

5. like a heavy load.
Metaphors and similes are frequently used for artistic expression because they help to turn ordinary happenings and events into extraordinary occurrences. This is the case not only with literature but also with music.

Listen to the two songs in the videos below. One uses primarily metaphors and the other similes, but can you tell which?

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