Monday, November 27, 2006

Poem Spark Nov. 27 - Dec. 4 - Synesthesia

Greetings fellow poets. Several days ago I read an article in LiveScience about synesthesia: in poetry, the use of language that fuses imagery from one sense to another, from the Greek words for "joined feelings." Some examples are: loud hands, bitter colors, a cold voice.

This technique has been used in poetry to great effect because it opens up a world of connotation that cannot otherwise be stated so simply. From comes this explanation of how Keats used synesthesia in his poetry:

Keats's imagery ranges among all our physical sensations: sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell, temperature, weight, pressure, hunger, thirst, sexuality, and movement. Keats repeatedly combines different senses in one image, that is, he attributes the trait(s) of one sense to another, a practice called synaesthesia. His synaesthetic imagery performs two major functions in his poems: it is part of their sensual effect, and the combining of senses normally experienced as separate suggests an underlying unity of dissimilar happenings, the oneness of all forms of life. Richard H. Fogle calls these images the product of his "unrivaled ability to absorb, sympathize with, and humanize natural objects."

Keats' poem, Ode to a Nightingale, uses synesthesia—for example:

"In some melodious plot / Of beechen green" (stanza I), combines sound ("melodious") and sight ("beechen green").

Here are some other examples of poems that use synesthesia:

Arthur Rimbaud The Seekers of Lice and Vowels, one of the more famous synesthesia poems. According to

In addition to drawing concerted scientific interest, the phenomenon of synesthesia started arousing interest in the salons of fin de siecle Europe. The French Romantic poets Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire wrote poems which focused on synesthetic experience. Baudelaire's Correspondances (1857) (full text available here) introduced the Romantic notion that the senses can and should intermingle.

More poetic synesthesia examples:

Ann Stafford Listening to Color

Jim Harrison Birds Again

This week's spark: write a poem that uses synesthesia. Good luck, be creative!


GEL said...

This was an excellent informative post. I love etmyology especially regarding poetic devices. Although I have taught poetry and English, I have much to learn and re-learn. I use this technique in some of my poetry. I will take you up on this challenge.

I particularly enjoyed your examples using the poetic giants.

Christine Klocek-Lim said...

gel, I'm glad you liked the spark. If you write a poem, post it here so I can see. :-)

Anonymous said...

If I may as bold as to post one of my poems, where I think I felt the senses joining:

To taste the wine of speech

My desirious mouth quivers
and trembles;
hungrily savouring
the words I taste
a sublime ensemble
of divertimento
fragranced bouquet
of dialogue
stanzas imbued
in assonance
methaphoric allusions
of song, lyrical as
sun and shadow
gliding and soaring,
swift, beyond shores
of measureless water
my moist mouth
opens to the feel
of dark liquid amber;
wine of language
soliloquy's intoxication,
the fragranced
flower of

S Walker

Bryant said...

A very informative post indeed; have recently become aware of this fascinating topic and your article has been quite illuminating. I invite you to take a look at what I put up on the subject, at

green-confessions said...

Hey guys I just wanted to say that synesthesia isn't just a type of poetry- its a neurological condition that most psychologists are clueless about. The condition synesthesia is when the senses cross involuntarily and most people who have synesthesia think its completely normal. Like in the poems some people can taste words and hear colors. I actually have 22 different types of synesthesia myself (most people only have 1 or 2).