The following is an explanation of a simile from the poem "The Bight" by Elizabeth Bishop:
The lines I’m highlighting from this 36-line poem are lines 11 to 13:
The birds are outsize. Pelicans crash
into this peculiar gas unnecessarily hard,
it seems to me, like pickaxes,
First we have to define a simile, which is a literary/poetic device. In essence, a simile compares two things that are unalike. The comparison of these two disparate things lends clarity to both things.
Therefore, in the poem “The Bight”, Elizabeth Bishop compares the pelicans to pickaxes. She is comparing living creatures to inanimate (non-living) objects. The word ‘like’ in line 13 is the comparison word that’s a bridge between the two separate things.
The poet is saying that the pelicans crashing (with their large beaks) are like pickaxes when they are pounded into something, such as wood. So the reader of this poem can visualize the pelicans crashing and their beaks hitting something, while at the same time visualizing a pickaxe striking something very forcefully.
As a result, the reader has a better understanding and picture in their mind of pelicans and what they are doing because of the comparison to pickaxes. This gives the poem more clarity for the reader. Vice-versa, the reader can now look upon pickaxes in a different light – comparing them to fleshly pelicans with big beaks whenever they see a pickaxe.
Another example of a simile in “The Bight” is this line (line 3 from the poem):
and the boats are dry, the pilings dry as matches.
The pilings in the harbor area, which are wooden posts wrapped with rope at dockside, are so dry that they resemble matchsticks. So, again, two different things are compared by way of the poetic device of simile. The comparison word here is ‘as’.