American poet ee cummings made vivid use of similes in his work.
Credit: Courtesy of American Memory at the Library of Congress
Similes are used often in literature, appearing in every genre from poetry to prose and from epics to essays. Utilized by writers to bring their literary imagery to life, similes are an important component of reading closely and appreciating literature. This lesson plan can be taught in conjunction with the EDSITEment lesson plan: Introducing Metaphors through Poetry, which will help students recognize both metaphors and similes, and to distinguish the elements from each other. In this lesson students will read excerpts from the work of Robert Frost, William Wordsworth and Toi Derricotte in order to gain an understanding of similes.
Many students begin to learn about similes well before entering high school. This lesson assumes that students will have a basic understanding of what similes are, however it is designed to help students review what they have learned in earlier classes and to begin to engage with similes on a deeper and more abstract level.
Similes compare one thing or idea to another, utilizing as or like to set off the comparison. For example, one might say that someone rushed across town "like a speeding train." In this case the person’s speed of travel is compared to a speeding train. An important aspect of this comparison is that the two objects which are being compared are essentially dissimilar in all aspects other than the point of comparison. In this example the person and the train do not possess similarities but for their comparative speed.
Students often confuse similes with metaphors; however, while both use one object or idea to enhance the literary image of another, metaphors and similes employ different imaging strategies. If one were to use a metaphor to depict the same situation described as "rushing across town like a speeding train," one might say that "he was a speeding train," conflating the speeding person with the speeding train. More information on similes is available through the EDSITEment-reviewed web resource Internet Public Library.
Review and bookmark the web pages containing the definition for simile available through the EDSITEment-reviewed web resource Internet Public Library, as well as the poems that will be discussed in this lesson. All of the poems discussed in this lesson are available on the EDSITEment-reviewed web site Academy of American Poets.
This activity will introduce or remind students of the definition of a simile while directing students to concrete examples of the same.
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills
Through clenched teeth, her eyes
Bright as a dog’s
Cornered in the light.
Ask students to return to the Derricotte poem and to think about the theme of the poem as they search for additional similes. After the example used above they may come to this simile:
She had been
solid as a tree,
a fur around her neck, a
light-skinned matron whose car was parked
How does the persona’s description of her grandmother as “solid as a tree” in these lines compare- and contrast- with the earlier description of her eyes flashing like a cornered animal? Why do you think that Derricotte uses the past perfect tense in this line?
Near the end of the poem they may point out the simile contained in these lines:
When my legs gave out, my grandmother
dragged me up and held me like God
holds saints by the
roots of the hair.
What does this simile mean? How do these similes build on the theme of the poem? How do they convey the feelings of the persona and of her grandmother? How do these similes relate to the title of this poem: “The Weakness”?
If you are teaching this lesson in conjunction with the EDSITEment lesson Introducing Metaphors Through Poetry, you may want to have students read Frost’s poem in search of metaphors as well as similes, which may help clarify the differences between the two elements. You can have them answer questions on metaphors from Frost’s poem by completing this additional PDF worksheet, or its online interactive equivalent.
Ask students to complete the PDF worksheets provided in Activities One and Two, including their analysis of the similes in Wordsworth and Derricotte’s poetry, as well as their own similes.
You may also want to ask students to keep a journal of the similes and metaphors they find in their class readings with their explanations of how they are effective. Students could collect these examples over the course of the semester or year and turn their journals in at the close of the year as a way of showing their grasp of these concepts.
The American poet ee cummings, known for his humor, odd punctuation and absent capital letters, wrote hundreds of intricately constructed poems over the course of his career. Many of his works evoked vivid imagery of his experiences as a soldier in World War I, his loves won and lost, and his family.
Ask students to read cummings’ poem somewhere i have never traveled, gladly beyond. Ask students to focus on the second stanza:
your slightest look will easily unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose
Is cummings using metaphor or simile? Ask students to ponder this poem, and particularly this stanza, thinking of the ways in which cummings has intertwined both simile and metaphor to convey blossoming love, beauty, and fragility.
1 class periods