Synaesthetic Metaphor and the Poetic Impulse

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference presentation/ephemerapeer-review


In considering both the ‘philosophy’ of poetry and the neurological
underpinnings of the poetic/metaphoric impulse, my research brings the study
of poetry and poetics together with the scientific field of synaesthesia research.
I suggest that a consideration of the current findings in neurological research,
particularly in the area of synaesthesia, can offer a new and valuable
interdisciplinary approach for thinking about the role of metaphor in poetic
theory and practice.

Synaesthesia is a neurological condition defined by the OED as "the production
of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of
another sense or part of the body". Recent research suggests that humans have
an inherent capacity for inter-sensory association which begins in early infancy,
when perception is thought to be synaesthetic in nature. The poetic
implications of this universal synaesthetic capacity lie in the nexus between
sensory experience and its metaphorical representation through language; for
poets, whose manipulation of language often relies on metaphoric connections,
the implications of this synaesthetic stimulation would be greater.

In this paper I will show how current findings in neurology and scientific
synaesthesia research are relevant to the study of poetry, drawing on my
doctoral research which establishes the prevalence of synaesthetic ideas in the
poetry of the early twentieth century. I will discuss the implications of a
universal synaesthetic capacity, including the role that synaesthetic metaphor
plays in language, and suggest that it underpins our impulse towards poetic
expression and poetic understanding.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2013
EventSymposium for the Theory and Practice of Poetry - Writing and Research Centre, University of Western Sydney, Sydney, Australia
Duration: 8 Nov 20138 Nov 2013


ConferenceSymposium for the Theory and Practice of Poetry


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