A conceit is a comparison between two very unlike things, whose dissimilarity is very obvious. While comparisons compare unlike things, a conceit is a special type of comparison because the two things compared are so unalike that it gives us pause.
Conceits are used to create unique comparisons and to describe unlikely situations.
Marriage is like getting a root canal.
Childbirth is like having a nail driven through your foot.
Examples of Conceits in Literature
From Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet-Juliet's father compares his crying daughter to a piece of bark tossed about on a sea (and her eyes to the sea and her sighs to the wind):
"Thou counterfeit'st a bark, a sea, a wind;
For still thy eyes, which I may call the sea,
Do ebb and flow with tears; the bark thy body is,
Sailing in this salt flood; the winds, thy sighs;
Who, raging with thy tears, and they with them,
Without a sudden calm, will overset
Thy tempest-tossed body."
In Sonnet 130, Shakespeare makes a point of not using typical comparisons when describing his mistress:
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If now be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses I see in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
Literary Terms Examples