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Epic simile

A detailed, often complex poetic comparison (see simile) that unfolds over the course of several lines. It is also known as a Homeric simile, because the Greek poet Homer is thought to have originated the device in the epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey. In the following passage from Book I of Paradise Lost, John Milton compares Lucifer’s massive army to scattered autumn leaves:

            His legions—angel forms, who lay entranc’d
            Thick as autumnal leaves that strow the brooks
            In Vallombrosa, where th’ Etrurian shades
            High over-arch’d embow’r; or scatter’d sedge
            Afloat, when with fierce winds Orion arm’d
            Hath vex’d the Red-Sea coast, whose waves o’erthrew
            Busiris and his Memphian chivalry,
            While with perfidious hatred they pursu’d
            The sojourners of Goshen, who beheld
            From the safe shore their floating carkases
            And broken chariot-wheels: so thick bestrown,
            Abject and lost, lay these, covering the flood,
            Under amazement of their hideous change.

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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