Similes are used in poetry, creative writing, and song lyrics to enhance to either create and portray imagery or enhance the poignancy of imagery. When writing is done well, it helps you visualize and imagine what’s being discussed, making it much more personable and relatable.
Imagery is often created in writing by metaphors or similes, which are very similar. I wrote an analysis of some songs with metaphors before on this blog and in this article, we’ll explore the similes in song lyrics.
A Russian Classic Translated To English
I translated this Russian song to English. It’s originally by Bulat Okudzhava who is one of the best Russian-language singer-songwriters of the 20th century. One of the lines of the song is:
Above this road of mine, shine just like your eyes, two cold evening stars looking down at me.
This is a great and imaginative simile. The listener can quickly picture how distant stars at night can feel cold like someone’s unemotional eyes. This simile goes well with another core lyrics of the song:
Maybe if there was warmth in your embrace, my road might have been easier to bare.
There are more lyrics in the song. But these two lyrics spoke to me when I first listened to this song in its original language. The song has a simple melody, but powerful and relatable imagery. This song, to me as a listener, was quite heartfelt. That’s why I wanted to translate it with an English-speaking audience.
Smells Like Teen Spirit By Nirvana
This is perhaps the most popular song with a simile. This is a song that needs no introduction, but funny enough, it has a great simile. What makes it stronger is that this simile is wrapped in multiple abstract elements. One of those is the “teen spirit” metaphor and the other is the “smells” without specifying the subject of what smells, leaving it ambiguous and interesting.
Why There Are More Songs With Metaphors Than With Similes
It’s easier to create an image in the form of a metaphor than a simile. If you want to express an image in an interesting way, doing it by using fewer words as a metaphor, often reads and feels more poetic.
Let’s illustrate this with an example. Let’s say I want to say something very basic is cheesy like “your love is as full as the ocean” which is a simile. That needs eight words. If you expressed that as a metaphor, it would not require the words “as full as” and would read like “your love is an ocean.” This isn’t identical in meaning, but it’s five words and arguably a little more poetic.
In songs, you usually have very little space for additional words so it’s often easier to express images in tightly expressed metaphors. In fact, I can make a daring statement that many of the songs that use similes are written poorly or without a focus on strong writing. That’s not a knock on those songs. For many song genres, writing isn’t too important.
But for powerful songs about life where lyrics are important, if you pay attention, you’ll be more likely to notice the imagery created with metaphors rather than similes.
Explore More Poetry Translations And My Own Poetry
I’ve translated many songs and poems from my favorite Russian singer-songwriter Bulat Okudzhava. Here are some examples of my Okudzhava song and poem translations. You can also explore more music with poetry and my analysis of that poetry. Personally, I find music with strong lyrics to be very powerful and transformative. Over the years, it’s what drew me to music the most. When a song inspires you with lyrics, you develop a personal relationship with it.