Difference between Metaphor and Imagery

Imagery (from the Old French imager, meaning, make an image) is a word that describes figurative language or visual descriptions and is often employed in literary work. Symbolism and imagery are frequently the soul of poetry.

A metaphor is a figure of speech applied to something that is not applicable with the purpose of suggesting an analogy between them. You can think of a metaphor as a filter. According to Metaphors in the History of Psychology by David E. Leary, the metaphor has been defined through the use of comparisons and is a sort of filter, lens, or stereoscopic image. According to Ricoeur’s Critical Theory by David M. Kaplan, a metaphor is a “heuristic fiction” that “redescribes” reality by referring to it in terms of something fictional or imaginative.

These techniques (the usage of imagery or the use of metaphors) can enhance a piece of writing by calling upon the reader’s senses (in the case of imagery) or by describing one thing as another (in the case of metaphors).

The difference between imagery and metaphor is a fairly simple one: imagery is always imagery, but a metaphor is only sometimes imagery (it is primarily a figure of speech that creates an analogy).

Here are a few examples of metaphors:

  • He destroyed him with only his words.

  • His eyes were flames.

  • We are all drops of water in the infinity of time.

And here are a few examples of imagery:

  • On a dark summer night in Washington, all was well.

  • When the moon embraced the stars, my world collapsed.

  • I can’t escape from the grip of death.

As you can see, metaphor and imagery have quite a bit of overlap, and indeed, sometimes they are indistinguishable. Grasping the subtle difference between them is key.