"I have said before that metaphors are dangerous," Milan Kundera wrote in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. "Love begins with a metaphor."
He might have added that love sometimes ends with a metaphor as well.
Like the experience of love itself, metaphors make connections. So it's no surprise that love has been imagined, examined, and remembered through a wide variety of figurative comparisons.
Many of these metaphors are familiar ones: love as a journey, a flower, a fire, or a game. As Zoltán Kövecses notes in his book Metaphor: A Practical Introduction (2010), "These are all highly conventional ways of conceptualizing love; they are age-old in Anglo-American (and even more generally in Western) culture. . . . Most people comprehend their love experiences and lead their love lives via such conventional conceptual metaphors."
But that doesn't mean that all love metaphors are conventional or that they convey the same message.
As this rich collection of passages demonstrates, love has been compared to everything from a jewel and a fevered dream to a snowmobile and an exploding cigar. And while some comparisons evoke a sense of rapture, others impart feelings of cynicism or despair.
The metaphors in this collection range over the centuries. Alongside quotations from Plato, Ovid, and Shakespeare you'll find fresh figures from the likes of Tom Robbins, Eminem, and Rita Mae Brown.
But why just 99 metaphors and not an even 100?
Because that last one has been left for you to create.
Love Is a Metaphor: 99 Metaphors of Love
- A Fruit
Love is a fruit, in season at all times and within the reach of every hand. Anyone may gather it and no limit is set.
(Mother Teresa, No Greater Love, 1997)
- A Banana Peel
I look at you and wham, I'm head over heels.
I guess that love is a banana peel.
I feel so bad and yet I'm feeling so well.
I slipped, I stumbled, I fell.
(Ben Weisman and Fred Wise, "I Slipped, I Stumbled, I Fell," sung by Elvis Presley in the film Wild in the Country, 1961)
- A Spice
Love is a spice with many tastes--a dizzying array of textures and moments.
(Wayne Knight as Newman in the final episode of Seinfeld, 1998)
- A Rose
Love is a rose but you better not pick it.
It only grows when it's on the vine.
A handful of thorns and you'll know you've missed it.
You lose your love when you say the word "mine."
(Neil Young, "Love Is a Rose," 1977)
- A Garden
Now that you're gone I can see
That love is a garden if you let it go.
It fades away before you know,
And love is a garden--it needs help to grow.
(Jewel and Shaye Smith, "Love Is a Garden," 2008)
- A Plant
Love is a plant of the most tender kind,
That shrinks and shakes with every ruffling wind.
(George Granville, The British Enchanters, 1705)
- A Wild Plant
Love is no hot-house flower, but a wild plant, born of a wet night, born of an hour of sunshine; sprung from wild seed, blown along the road by a wild wind.
(John Galsworthy, The Man of Property, 1906)
- A Tree
[L]ove needs new leaves every summer of life, as much as your elm-trees, and new branches to grow broader and wider, and new flowers at the root to cover the ground.
(Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Chimney-Corner, 1868)
- A Cloud
[Love] is the rosy cloud in the morning of life; and if it does too often resolve itself into the shower, yet, to my mind, it only makes our nature more fruitful in what is excellent and amiable.
(Washington Irving, letter to Mrs. Foster, May 28, 1823)
- A Clash of Lightnings
Oh, love is a journey with water and stars,
with drowning air and storms of flour;
love is a clash of lightnings,
two bodies subdued by one honey.
(Pablo Neruda, Sonnet 12, translated by Stephen Tapscott, 1960/1986)
- A Star
[Love] is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
(William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116, 1609)
- A Pilgrimage
Real love is a pilgrimage. It happens when there is no strategy, but it is very rare because most people are strategists.
(Anita Brookner, interview with Olga Kenyon, 1989)
- A Journey
They say it is better to travel than to arrive. It's not been my experience, at least. The journey of love has been rather a lacerating, if well-worth-it, journey."
(D.H. Lawrence, Fantasia of the Unconscious, 1922)
- A Truck
Love is a truck and an open road,
Somewhere to start and a place to go.
(Mojave 3, "Truck Driving Man," 2006)
- A Truck and a Wall
Love is a truck, love is a wall.
It'll run you down or it's what you've gotta get over.
(Connie Kaldor, "Love Is a Truck," 2000)
- A Dirt Road
They say love is a two-way street. But I don't believe it, because the one I've been on for the last two years was a dirt road.
(Terry McMillan, Waiting to Exhale, 1992)
- A Key
Love is the master key that unlocks the gates of happiness, of hatred, of jealousy, and most easily of all, the gate of fear.
(Oliver Wendell Holmes, A Moral Antipathy, 1885)
- A Bull
Happiness is the china shop; love is the bull.
(H.L. Mencken, A Little Book in C Major, 1916)
- A Beggar
Love is a beggar, most importunate,
Uncalled he comes and makes his dear demands.
(Corinne Roosevelt Robinson, "Love Is a Beggar," 1912)
- A Homeless Guy
And love is a homeless guy searching for treasure in the middle of the rain and finding a bag of gold coins and slowly finding out they're all filled with chocolate and even though he's heart broken, he can't complain because he was hungry in the first place.
(Robert "Bo" Burnham, "Love Is . . .," 2009)
- An Alchemist and a Spaniel
Love is an alchemist that can transmute poison into food--and a spaniel that prefers even punishment from one hand to caresses from another.
(Charles Caleb Colton, Lacon: or, Many Things in Few Words, 1820)
- A Dog
Love is a dog from hell.
(Charles Bukowski, Love Is a Dog From Hell, 1977)
Continued on page two
See also: 100 Sweet Similes