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How to Write Poetry using Metaphors as a way of Healing - Markings 144

The third in a series of writing poetry as a way of healing.


Metaphor is an alchemical bond of words that unites two different things. This occurs in various ways. In some metaphor the correspondence between two things is precise and exact:

I am water rushing to the well-head

filling the pitcher until it spills.

—Jane Kenyon

My rage is a cloud of flame.

—Marge Piercy

In other forms of metaphor the connection is not an exact equation but something more implicit. More than either an exact equation or an implicit relationship between different things, metaphors compose entire realities. Rather than words strung together in a logical and linear way to explain a

point of view or describe something, metaphor instantaneously presents a complete picture.

A metaphor may be strong and direct yet ask us to perceive subtle, unusual connections. Metaphoric language challenges us to perceive interplay between the unexpected notion and direct statement. Our understanding of this interplay can be instantaneous if, as Theodore Roethke suggested, we “think by feeling.”

Metaphors engage our ability to perceive connections made between something particular and a larger reality. Metaphors show relationships between outer experience and inner feeling. Metaphors are intended to satisfy head and heart; they enable a sense of psychological and spiritual balance; they open communication between the known and unknown parts of our lives; they foster integration between our everyday self and our potential self.

Metaphors are best understood intuitively. Metaphor-making will help you to recognize, develop, use and express your intuitive knowing.

For all of these reasons metaphors offer great healing power.

A metaphor does not usually make literal sense but it makes intuitive sense. It expresses a truth that exists beyond the rational mind, giving a broader meaning to life.


When I was a baby my heart

was a tiny fish swimming

in a gargantuan sea of things to come

When I was a toddler my heart

was a trout in a large take of

thoughts and feeling

Now my heart is becoming

a salmon ready to go to the sea

of the troubles Twill have to face

When lam old my heart

will be a whale swimming

in a sea of memories

When I die God wilt become

a whaler.

—Orion Misciagna, eleven years old

What a marvel that an eleven-year-old can appreciate his life with such creative perception’ Orion’s startling self-awareness and faith is revealed in the last stanza we can feel it as a rush in our spines, as the hairs on the back of our necks tingle. Soul speaks in this poem, through the inventive yet simple “sea life” metaphors.

You too can use metaphors to broaden your expressive powers. When intuitive knowing connects deeply with the meaning of a single metaphor, it is often more useful in healing your pain than a thousand words or psychological theories.



Mary Kay Turner, M.D., works in general surgery and on a trauma unit in an Indianapolis hospital. She sees most people heal and leave the hospital, but she also sees catastrophic injuries for which there are few good answers and a lot of painful questions. Mary Kay writes poetry to take care of herself I such intense circumstances and to deepen her sense of spirituality. She wrote this poem in a workshop:


I am a well

ancient, enduring

even in the stark

and arid times

I have never gone

completely dry.

Send your bucket down

my deep recesses

have much to give.

Send the rain down,

my mouth is open

to this gift from the wide sky.

Send the storm down

though my weathered mortar

cracks, and the stones shift

I remain standing still.

—Mary Kay Turner

Mary Kay comments on how this metaphor connects with her life:

For a long time I identified totally with being a wife and a surgeon. I was wrapped up in doing those roles. But it wasn’t enough. When work went badly I felt horrible. Something about this approach to my life began to feel spiritually bankrupt.

I wanted to look at who I really am. That led me into therapy and recovery. Much of my recovery work includes valuing my creativity and writing. The ancient, enduring well is me. The image and voice of a well reminds me lam more than what I do. I want to be in touch with that inward place. There is something about writing that is part of going to the well—of coming back to myself. It’s vital if lam to do the work I do and be the woman lam.

Writing poetry gives me a place to rest when things are rough.

When people are dying around me, or I am concerned that I need to do

something differently and don’t have any good answers, poetry helps me

find my source and a new perspective.

This well” is a place in me, hut it also reminds me of a place in my

patients The well says that there is something more, something eternal,

something within us that is renewed through human experience. This is

my impression of what God is: a part of all of us that survives rain and

storm and even death.

My poem tells me that I can handle whatever comes up if I am willing to go down into my depths. To do that, I need to be myself not just identified as a doctor. There is something very poetic and feminine about this image for me. On a rough day, I’ll descend down and just be there for a while. I’ll come back up and enter into life.


The Power of Healing Metaphors

1. Think of an area in your life where you need sustenance. At work? At home with family? Taking care of an aging parent? In a relationship? Make two columns. Jot down that area of stress in the left column. Include a few notes on that stress: difficult memories or circumstances, how your body feels in that place or circumstance, qualities of relationships, etc. For instance: work past dinner time, furrowed brow, deadlines on my desk, competitive co-workers In the second column write words – images and metaphors - that nourish you. Take words from each of these columns and link them together in a poem. How can the nourishing words be applied to ease the stressful ones?

2. Use the words below (or ones you think of yourself) to express metaphorically aspects of yourself, something in your life, or someone you know:

wind prison moon house knife fountain

jasmine mask island well ashes ghetto

hurricane jaguar dolphin peach stone glove

©Jeff Guess 2019


Writing Poetry

A Creative Writing Course in 8 Units.

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