The metaphor-to-meaning structure is a two-part structure that moves from supplying a metaphor for something (a thing, or a situation) to revealing the meaning of, the significance behind, that metaphor.
The use of such late revelation is strategic. Like jokes and riddles, which of course do not give up their punch lines or solutions right away, some poems strategically employ the energy and the interest that can be garnered by creating and keeping alive suspense, by revealing what it in fact is “about” only at poem’s end.
The delayed revelation can also signify psychological pressure to try to repress the truth which is only revealed toward poem’s end, as occurs in “Fragments.”
(Rae Armantrout’s “Dusk” is a funny, parody of Whitman’s poem, one that employs the ironic structure. Check it out here.)
Markham’s poem is very similar to Whitman’s.
“Simile,” by Peter Campion (in The Lions (Chicago: U of Chicago, 2009)).
(Take a look at a duck/rabbit here.)
“At the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem,” by Countee Cullen (The Art of the Sonnet, Stephen Burt and David Mikics, eds. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2010. 273.)
You can find an excellent discussion of Dobyns’s poem in “The Flexible Lyric” in Ellen Bryant Voigt’s The Flexible Lyric (Athens, GA: U of Georgia P, 1999), pp. 162-67).
“A Snowfall,” by Richard Eberhart (in Fifty Contemporary Poets: The Creative Process, edited by Alberta T. Turner (New York: David McKay Company, 1977), pp. 85-6).
All three of the above poems are from the first section of Claudia Emerson’s Late Wife, “Divorce Epistles.” The first two poems create metaphors for the dissolving marriage. “A Bird in the House” creates a metaphor for the way the speaker imagines her absence might be felt in her ex-husband’s life…
A big part of the constructed loveliness of “The Silken Tent” is that there’s almost no overt turning in it–but there is some subtle turning. The “meaning” of “The Silken Tent”‘s gorgeously constructed and maintained metaphor is offered in line 7: the tent “signifies the sureness of the soul.” And, of course, at the end of the sonnet, in the final couplet, where one expects the big movement of the turn, there is at least the hint of some movement. “The Silken Tent” contains structure, but it also is a model of the use of understatement.
There seem to be two kinds of meanings provided in “The Envoy”: both the revelation of the meaning of the metaphor and a larger statement of the meaning of the poem: metaphor, meaning, and all. (That is, this poem may employ a hybrid structure that combines the metaphor-to-meaning structure with a similar structure: the story-with-a-moral structure.)
(Note that, though the whole poem is reprinted, the line breaks are not present in this version. For an accurate version, see Hirshfield’s The Beauty, p. 15.)
“Love,” by Tony Hoagland (in Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty (Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf, 2010): 18).
Howe’s is a mysterious poem. See what she says about it here.
“On the First Tee with Charles Wright,” by Jon Loomis (in The Pleasure Principle (Oberlin, OH: Oberlin College Press, 2001): 18).
Ludvigson’s poem is perhaps a “symbol-to-intimation” poem…
“Falling,” by W. S. Merwin (in The Shadow of Sirius, p. 104).
“The Mole,” by W. S. Merwin (in The Shadow of Sirius, pp. 64-5).
“Motive,” by Don Paterson (in Rain (New York: FSG, 2009): 39).
“The way that bright planet, the moon…,” by Rainer Maria Rilke (See the first comment for this poem–one at least can get a sense of it here. For a more official version see Rilke’s Uncollected Poems, trans. Edward Snow (New York: North Point-Farrar, 1996): 77).
“A Winter Night,” by Robin Robertson–a version of a poem by Tomas Transtromer
“Still Start,” by Kay Ryan
“Organized Religion,” by Frederick Seidel (in Ooga-Booga (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006): 67-68).
“Dog and Owner,” by Alan Shapiro (in Old War (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008): 14-15).
“Language,” by Alan Shapiro (in Old War (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008): 81).
(Be sure to read the very informative translator’s note here.)
And here are some poems in which “poetry” (or “the poet”) specifically supplies the metaphor’s ultimate meaning:
For some additional information on “The Clerks,” see here.
“The Box Turtle” features its own spin on the metaphor-to-meaning structure: at the end of its description of the box turtle, it claims, “And there is no metaphor in this. No poetry.” Perhaps these concluding statements are true, but they are also a bit ironic, delivered at the end…of a poem.
Some poems reverse the metaphor-to-meaning structure, supplying the meaning first and then developing the metaphor. Here are a few examples:
“The Flower,” by Michael Fried (in The Next Bend in the Road, p. 56).
“Thinking,” by Jorie Graham (in The Errancy (Hopewell, NJ: Ecco, 1997): 40-1). (In “Thinking,” the title serves as the meaning–the poem offers the metaphor.)
“Red Onion, Cherries, Boiling Potatoes, Milk–,” by Jane Hirshfield (in Given Sugar, Given Salt: Poems (New York: HarperCollins, 2001): 24.)
“Food Court,” by Tony Hoagland (in Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty (Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf, 2010): 4).
“Not Renouncing,” by Tony Hoagland (in Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty (Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf, 2010): 78-9).
The meaning of Nemerov’s poem is in the title; the poem offers the metaphor.
“Silence,” by Gregory Orr (in Burning the Empty Nests (New York: Harper & Row, 1973); reprinted in Leaping Poetry: An Idea with Poems and Translations, by Robert Bly (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008): 114).
“For Once,” by Don Paterson (in Rain (New York: FSG, 2009): 5).
And here are some other variations on the structure:
Fragment 6, by Alcaeus In this fragment, the image of the storm-tossed ship is understood to be a metaphor for the state subjected to political turmoil.
“Question Arising while Listening to a Lecture on the Nature of Metaphor,” by Rick Barot In this poem, there’s metaphor and connection, but what’s the meaning?
“Ars Poëtica with Bacon,” by Terrance Hayes As with Barot’s poem, there’s metaphor, and the suggestion of meaning, but that meaning is complex and difficult.
In “Securitization,” Ange Mlinko employs the metaphor-to-meaning structure in the poem’s first part.
And if you take out the final six lines of Yvor Winters’s “Before Disaster” (as John Ciardi recommends in the final chapter of his book How Does a Poem Mean?), his poem becomes another which employs the metaphor-to-meaning structure.
“The Riddle of the Sphinx Moth,” by Sarah Hannah A metaphor-to-meaning poem that (ironically, and poignantly) questions its own operation.
“Handle,” by J. Allyn Rosser A poem which clearly starts as a metaphor-to-meaning poem (beginning, “Like the handle…”), but, at the turn, instead of confidently stating its meaning, the poem instead enacts its own inability to “handle” its materials, delivering an avalanche of thoughts.
“Sheep’s Cheese,” by Jane Hirshfield In its penultimate line, this poem denies that it is trying to make a metaphor out of the poem’s materials (“The wheels are only sheep’s milk, not ripening souls”). But the suggestion is enough–yes?–to animate (to give anima–spirit, or soul–to) the inanimate.
“One of the Butterflies,” by W. S. Merwin Merwin’s poem, in fact, is structured more as a “list-with-a-twist,” but its conceit is that of the metaphor-to-meaning: the way that pleasure and the human interact is like the way that butterflies and humans interact…
“The Term,” by William Carlos Williams Another variant on the structure: Williams announces what his image is NOT a metaphor for.
“Bouquet of Roses in Sunlight,” by Wallace Stevens Stevens uses the expectation that his observation/description of the bouquet will turn into a metaphor as a way to highlight the singularity of the roses, and the moment they are a part of. (Note: though this poem seems to strive to place the roses “beyond the rhetorician’s touch,” the poem is a rhetorical tour de force.)