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Simile

1. What is it?

Similes are used to compare two things. They generally use the structure ‘as…as…’ or ‘is like…’.

An epic simile (also called a ‘Homeric simile’) is a simile that lasts for several lines.

Similes appear in almost all forms of literature.

Some similes have become commonly used phrases. 
For example: cold as ice; run like the wind

2. Why use it?

To make comparisons.Comparisons are useful for explanation, description, emphasis, language play, or even comedic effect.

3. Examples

The horses, their faces looking as if they had lost a loved one, solemnly ate the grass, while the sheep idled like muddle-minded assistants. Above them the rain continued to fall, with the clouds as deep and grey as the oldest mare’s coat.


My life was like a clock
That broke at 17
My hope like a sock
That had worn wane and thin.


The rain fell likes strings, and as we walked through the storm our waterlogged bags felt as heavy as rocks. Yet there was no shelter, and soon a wicked flash of lightning cracked across the sky. This was the holiday from hell.

4. Examples in literature

A Birthday
by Christina Rossetti

Know Your Book

Title: A Birthday
Author: Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)
Published: 1862 (in Goblin Market and Other Poems)
Language: English
Genre: Poetry
Synopsis: A structurally simple poem expressing the powerful effect of falling in love. The first stanza sees the poet compare meeting her love to a variety of beautiful objects. In the second stanza, she wants to tell the world about her love. Finally, she announces that meeting this lover is the first day of her true self – a metaphorical birth of the rest of her life.

My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these,
Because my love is come to me.

Raise me a daïs of silk and down;
Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.

Skimming, Scanning and Basic Comprehension

1. In simple terms, what does the first stanza of the poem describe?
2. How many birds are mentioned in the poem?
3. What is ‘the birthday of my life’? 
Identifying Techniques

4. Highlight the similes used in the poem. What connects all the similes seen in the poem?
5. Each of the similes attempts a form of imagery. Do you feel the imagery is successful? Can you imagine each ‘picture’?
6. Colours are an important part of Rossetti’s imagery. Underline the colours used in the poem.
7. Which single line suggests that the similes can still not describe the poet’s feeling? 
Text Analysis

8. What do you feel the overall tone of the poem is? Which words or phrases give you that impression?
9. Compare the structure of the first stanza and the second stanza. What is similar? What is different?
10. Why does the poet use semi-colons in the poem?
11. Both nature and artistic crafts are repeatedly referred to within the poem. Why? Is there a difference in how they are used? 
Provoking Opinion

12. Do you think that the emotion described in Rossetti’s A Birthday is realistically possible?
13. What would you choose as the ‘birthday’ of your life? Why?
14. Rossetti’s poems are renowned for describing emotional extremes. In your opinion, what is the highest extreme of emotion? What is the lowest?

The Odyssey
attributed to Homer

Know Your Book

Title: Ὀδύσσεια (*trans: The Odyssey)
Author: Ὅμηρος (Homer) (c.800 BC- c.701 BC)
Published: c. 8th century BC
Language: Homeric Greek
Genre: Epic poem, Homeric epic
Plot: Odysseus endures an epic journey home from the Trojan War. Over ten years he and his crew are captured by various monsters, from which they must escape, sometimes with the help of the Gods. These include the famous Cyclops and Sirens. Meanwhile, at home, other men are beginning to think about marrying Odysseus’s wife, Penelope.
Setting: Troy; Ogygia; Island of the Lotus Eaters; Polyphemus’s island
Characters: Odysseus; Penelope; Telemachus;  Calypso; Polyphemus; The Lotus Eaters

Excerpt from Book 22 (translated from Greek):

Thus spoke the stockman, and Ulysses struck the son of Damastor with a spear in close fight, while Telemachus hit Leocritus son of Evenor in the belly, and the dart went clean through him, so that he fell forward full on his face upon the ground. Then Minerva from her seat on the rafter held up her deadly aegis, and the hearts of the suitors quailed. They fled to the other end of the court like a herd of cattle maddened by the gadfly in early summer when the days are at their longest. As eagle-beaked, crook-taloned vultures from the mountains swoop down on the smaller birds that cower in flocks upon the ground, and kill them, for they cannot either fight or fly, and lookers on enjoy the sport – even so did Ulysses and his men fall upon the suitors and smite them on every side. They made a horrible groaning as their brains were being battered in, and the ground seethed with their blood.

1. Which word could be used to describe the events of the passage?

a) Threat
b) War
c) Imprisonment
d) Slaughter
e) Justice

Answer
d
2. Upon seeing the strength of their enemies, the suitors attempt to

a) flee
b) fight
c) surrender
d) bargain
e) plea

Answer
a
3. The suitors are compared to

a) vultures
b) birds
c) flies
d) eagles
e) mountains

Answer
b
4. ‘For they cannot either fight or fly’: this line suggests that the suitors are

a) cowards
b) defenceless against the attack
c) poor fighters
d) hoping for mercy
e) worthy of being killed

Answer
b
5. Which two ideas are in direct contrast in A Birthday and the excerpt from The Odyssey?

a) Day and night
b) Youth and age
c) Birth and death
d) Good and evil
e) Joy and grief

Answer
c

5. Tasks

Task 1: Create similes to describe 5 adjectives and 5 verbs.
Task 2: Write a scene in which at least two similes appear. The similes may be separate, or ‘Homeric’.

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