How to Analyse a Simile

Analysing Similes

Introduction

Most candidates will spot a writer’s use of “like” or “as” and immediately scribble simile and a brief interpretation onto their page without actually identifying the comparison or commenting on how it works. Using William Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”, this guide will help you develop your analysis of this technique into a more precise and detailed response to an essay question.

Identifying Similes

In one of poetry’s most famous opening lines, the speaker compares his “lonely” ramble through the countryside to a “cloud that floats on high” above the “vales” and “hills” below. No matter how the landscape changes, he always seems to remain distant and unaffected by the world. There is an obvious tone of sadness in the image, but the mood suddenly changes when he sees a field full of “golden daffodils”.

Unfortunately, this summary is often reduced to:

The poet uses a simile to describe himself as “lonely as a cloud” which is separated from the “vales and hills” below. This tells the reader he feels sad.

The candidate has identified the method and integrated the quotation into their sentence, but the comparison between “himself” and the “cloud” remains quite implicit. Consider the next example which recognises more explicitly that two ideas are being connected:

The “lonely” speaker uses a simile to compare himself to “cloud” which is separated from the “vales and hills” below. This tells the reader he feels sad.

However, there is still no real attempt to comment on what makes the speaker and the cloud similar. If you want to explore the simile in detail and improve your marks, you must explain what links the two ideas:

In the opening lines of the poem, the “lonely” speaker compares himself to a “cloud” which “floats” above the “vales and hills” below. In the same way a cloud always seems unreachable and lacks any real sense of direction, this simile suggests the speaker feels lost and hopeless. Perhaps both of them lack definition or substance.

Sometimes, it is enough to simply define the words or paraphrase the line, but you may need to explain what similarities the poet is referring to in the comparison. This will then support your interpretation of the image.

How to Annotate Similes

Compare and Comparison

It becomes increasingly important to use “compare” or “comparison” whenever the two objects or ideas are not so immediately obvious to the reader. Look at this analysis of the next simile:

In the second stanza, the writer compares the daffodils to “stars”. This simile suggests that the flowers are just as magnificent and glimmering as the “shine” and “twinkle” of stars along the “milky way”. This vivid image tells the reader that these daffodils are mesmerising and infinite.

After the candidate makes a simple and coherent point about what is happening in the poem, they identify the method in the second sentence and then go on to explain what actually makes the daffodils and stars similar. The analysis concludes with a simple interpretation that could do with some improvement.

If you are following the Point Example Explanation approach, you must remember to include an outline of what connects the two images in your explanation.

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