“Swift Unbridled Sea,” #haiku, & A Discussion of Using Implied Metaphors in Haiku

Sally Cronin provided this week’s image for our Photo Prompt challenge.

Today, I want to talk about using metaphors in your poetry. First, let’s discuss what a metaphor is.

The Grammarly blog explains that “a metaphor is a figure of speech that describes an object or action in such a way that it isn’t literally true, but the description helps to explain an idea or make a comparison. A metaphor states that one thing is another thing.”

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

My favorite example of this is the saying, “You’re the black sheep of the family.” Literally, we know this to not be true because humans aren’t sheep. But, in a metaphorical sense, a black sheep is someone different from the rest of their family members. So, if someone says, “metaphorically speaking” I wouldn’t take their statement for the truth, but would think of what they said as an idea of some sort.

In haiku, we do not use the words, “like or as” to show our metaphor, and we don’t use similes. We should never use a metaphor like this when writing haiku. Instead, we should use an implied metaphor.

Literary Devices.net says:

“Implied Metaphor is a literary device used in prose and poetry to compare two unlikely things, with common characteristics without mentioning one of the objects of comparison. It is implied in the texts to make imagery rich and effective and also to make subjects relatable and understandable to the readers. In this sense, it enables them to grasp the complex phenomenon discussed in the text. Moreover, the appropriate use of implied metaphor appeals to the sense of hearing and makes readers comprehend what is being communicated to them.”


So how do we use implied metaphor in our haiku? Think of it this way. We take two objects and compare and contrast them. This creates a juxtaposition, which is an understatement, since true haiku should state nothing. The meaning is always implied and left up to the reader to interpret.

Back to Sally’s photo. I looked at the image and saw metaphors everywhere. The reason we use an implied metaphor is that the meaning is personally felt and interpreted by the reader. In poetry, we want to forge that kind of connection.

Here is my untitled 5/7/5 haiku:

swift unbridled sea
breakers spill out with laughter
foam tickles my toes

©2020 Colleen M. Chesebro

What is the implied metaphor? If you said, breakers spill out with laughter, you’d be right. I compared the swift unbridled sea to breakers laughing as they break against the shore while the sea foam tickles my toes. In reality, waves don’t laugh, as that is a human trait. This literary technique is called personification.

I wanted to convey a sense of playfulness in this haiku. However, anyone who’s ever seen an angry sea churning away and eroding a beach during a storm knows there is nothing playful about the ocean. The sea’s destructive powers are well documented.

Examine the famous poem by Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Birds Sings.” (The poem is halfway down the page).

Literary Devices.net explains

“The poem exhibits racial segregation and social discrimination prevalent against the black community in American society.  She has used two metaphors in the poem; the first metaphor is of the “free bird” that is for the white people, while the “caged bird” is the metaphor of African American people and their detention in the social norms.

Using this implied metaphor of a bird, Maya Angelou explores the ideas of freedom, equality, and justice in the text. She skilfully contrasts the freedom of the free bird and the alienation and captivity of the caged bird by using this metaphor.”

Literary Devices.net/implied-metaphor

I used this poem not to discuss social issues, but to help explain the use of metaphor in poetry.

When we use photo prompts for our poetry, we don’t want to describe what is in the photo. The photo is for our inspiration. We want our reader to infer something from our poetry they can’t see in the photo. We want to surprise them with our observations.

Experiment with your use of implied metaphors. It will help you achieve your goal of showing and not telling.

25 thoughts on ““Swift Unbridled Sea,” #haiku, & A Discussion of Using Implied Metaphors in Haiku

    1. All my research led me to this discovery. It makes sense to use an implied metaphor. Haiku shouldn’t use like or as, so implied adds that additional layer of meaning.


      1. I agree. The only metaphor distinction I’d learned about in college was the dead metaphor (followed, of course, by “Trust me, that metaphor is dead. Don’t use it.”).


  1. It is so true that the ocean, well any natural body of water has many different ‘actions’. And as poets we enjoy playing with or implying many of our human attributes or moods to that wonderful flow 😀


  2. I think personification often overlaps with metaphor – and you’ve shown that very well here. I think it may be one of the easier things to put in poetry, since poetry tends to bring things to life anyway.


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