Metaphors and Writing process Essay Example

Wilbur’s poem, “The Writer” is about the writing process. The narrator in this poem is a father describing his daughter’s process of writing a story. In this poem, Wilbur uses metaphors to describe the process of writing. The use of metaphor in writing is premised upon the concept of similarity between two items; and it involves implicit comparison between items. In the words of Kövecses, Benczes, and Csábi (2009), a metaphor involves “understanding one conceptual domain in terms of another conceptual domain” (p. 4). In this poem, the writing process is described using two metaphors.

The first metaphor (elaborated in the first three stanzas) compares writing to a sea voyage. This figure of speech is developed by the writer’s use of nautical images. Some of the vocabularies used by the writer in the first three stanzas are terms that are usually used in describing journeying at sea. These include tossed (in relation to tossing sea billows), prow (front part of a vessel), cargo (shipment), passage (a journey usually by ship) and gunwale (topmost planking of a wooden vessel). In this nautical metaphor, the father compares the daughter’s writing process and struggles through life to cargo (the stuff/Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:/I wish her a lucky passage.) the references made to ‘passage’ and ‘gunwale’ also evoke images of a sea voyage. These imply that in order to become an accomplished writer, the young writer must undertake the journey and move forward regardless of the heavy cargo (impediments).

The narrator then dismisses the nautical metaphor as an “easy figure” (line 11) that fails to capture the daughter’s process of writing. Triggered by the memory of a starling struggling to be free (lines 16 and 17), the narrator introduces the image of a caged bird. In this second metaphor, the writing process is compared to a battle for freedom, and the young writer must fight to gain freedom. Although the father (and others) intervenes to assist the trapped bird by opening a window, the bird still had to find its own way to the right window before “clearing the sill of the world” (line 30). In relation to the process of writing, this metaphor implies that much as the father could lead his daughter to the right path, she still had to find her own way. In this metaphor, the bird hit the closed windows a number of times before finding the opening to its freedom. This implies that finding the right window (expressing oneself well in writing) takes time and patience. The image of the ensnared, frustrated, wounded, scared, and eventually free bird is a metaphor for the daughter-writer’s process of writing.

As the poem comes to a close, we appreciate Wilbur’s metaphorical thinking, and how it results in harmony in the poem. In the end, father appreciates that inasmuch as he can point his daughter to the right path, there is not much more he can do but to hope for the best. This is expressed in the father’s reversion to the nautical metaphor as he wishes her “What I wished you before, but harder” (line 33) – a safe passage.

My metaphor of the writing process compares it to mining. The miner gets up in the darkness of the early morning, puts on his helmet with a headlight, and – with coffee mug in hand – descends into the depths of the earth to mine precious stones. Sometimes picking away at the subterranean rock, a beautiful vein of gold is uncovered. Other times, a profitless day passes where the miner hacks away at the stone with no reward. What is being mined? The depths of the human mind. The headlight is inspiration; the pick is the writer’s pen; the wall of stone, the blank piece of paper; and the profitless day is what happens as a result of writer’s block.


Kövecses, Z., Benczes, R. & Csábi, S. (2009). Metaphor: a practical introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wilbur, R. (2004). “The Writer” from Collected Poems 1943-2004. Available from: Retrieved 4th September 2011