Synaesthetic Metaphor in Early Twentieth Century Poetry

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference presentation/ephemerapeer-review


This paper examines the use of synesthetic metaphor in the works of early twentieth century poets including T.S Eliot, Wallace Stevens, W.H Auden and Dylan Thomas, to establish the significance of conveying meaning through imagistic expression as opposed to outright statement. The focus on image and experience in the early twentieth century arose from the search for a language other than that of science, a language that could be used as a means of
expressing the complexity of the modern world and emphasizing the importance of the knowledge that arose from lived experience. Meaning in poetry was embodied rather than explained, which encouraged poets to turn to imagery and metaphor in order to communicate their perceptual experiences. The link between metaphor and synesthesia, a neurological condition defined by the Oxford Dictionary 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" can be seen in the shared nature of their basic conceptual functions. If metaphor, in the most basic terms, involves the experience of one thing in terms of another, then synesthesia is, fundamentally, a physical manifestation of the same concept. While the condition itself is uncommon, the implications of synesthesia are universal. Research suggests that humans have an inherent capacity for inter-sensory association that begins in early childhood, when perception is thought to be synesthetic in nature (Van Campen 2008: 29–33). Metaphors which are essentially synesthetic, such as 'sharp cheese‘ or 'warm colour‘, are entrenched in the English language and have been evident in literature for hundreds of years. The poetic relevance of synesthesia lies in
the potential for creating an abstract linguistic representation of sensory experience through synesthetic metaphor. As a poetic device in the early twentieth century, synesthetic metaphor provided poets with the possibility of creating multiple associations within different sensory realms in order to convey meaning through perceptual experience rather than through direct statement.
Keywords: synesthesia, metaphor, poetry, Imagism, modernism, perception
Cytowic, Richard. 1989. Synesthesia: A union of the senses, New York: Springer-Verlag.
Marks, Lawrence E. 1978. The Unity of the Senses: Interrelations among the modalities. New York: Academic
Van Campen, Cretien. 2008. The Hidden Sense: Synesthesia in art and science. London: MIT Press.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2010
EventStockholm 2010 Metaphor Festival - University of Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden
Duration: 16 Sept 201017 Sept 2010


ConferenceStockholm 2010 Metaphor Festival


Dive into the research topics of 'Synaesthetic Metaphor in Early Twentieth Century Poetry'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this