Date of Award

May 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Peter Van Elswyk

Committee Members

Rachel Goodman, Joshua Spencer


Metaphor, Poetry, Pragmatics, Semantics


The aim of this paper is to explain why the leading theories of metaphor fail when applied to metaphors which appear in poems. The ability to understand the true meaning of a metaphor in conversations relies on understanding speaker intention and extralinguistic context. This paper argues that because such material is not available to the reader of a poem, theories which rely heavily on pragmatics to explain metaphors cannot be successfully applied to metaphors which appear in poems. This paper makes use of the views on metaphor by John Searle and Paul Grice, and discusses how meaning is constructed in poetry, and in particular the sonnet, through Nelson Goodman’s theory of symbol systems.