Synaesthesia in British Romantic Poetry


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PhD thesis: a PhD thesis.
Synaesthesia in British Romantic Poetry
Lindholm Philip
Falconer Rachel
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Université de Lausanne, Faculté des lettres
Faculté des lettres
Université de Lausanne
CH-1015 Lausanne

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This thesis examines the imaginative richness of literary synaesthesia, the use of the terminology of one sense impression to describe the sensation of another, in British Romantic poetry. My study of the creative fertility of synaesthesia, located at the interface of Romantic poetry and science, is contextualised with reference to literary, philosophical and scientifïc discourses and contemporary debates about cross-sensory perception, and it is elucidated through close readings of poems by William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, respectively. Acknowledging the widespread Romantic interest in multisensory combination while remaining attentive to the historical situatedness of notions of 'sensation', this study explores the specificity of Romantic synaesthetic discourse by engaging in close readings of specimen poems which 1 argue constitute rich case studies représentative of their author's creative expérimentation with the blending of the senses. My close readings of these selected poems illuminate the creative rôle of synaesthesia, revealed to be a fondamental aspect of Romantic aesthetics, by examining how it lies at the intersection of embodiment and abstraction - between the immediacy of physical sense experience imd reflexive or imaginative mental activity - in order to emphasise its vital contribution to our current understanding of an 'embodied Romanticism'.
The Introduction defïnes the contours and parameters of the research topic, surveying existing criticism on the subject and offering an overview of the history of synaesthetic discourse in an attempt to trace shifting attitudes towards intersensorial perception and its aesthetic représentation in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Chapter I focuses on the poetry of William Wordsworth and attempts to recover his synaesthetic poetics from critical neglect. Following a brief discussion of the 1805 Préludé, this chapter examines 'Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey' specifîcally in order to reconsider Wordsworth's belief in the ability of the différent senses to 'counteract' each other and the deep 'interfusion' of memory, vision and hearing underlying the mind's engagement with 'ail the mighty world / Of eye and ear'. Chapter 2 focuses primarily on the fusion of light and sound in Coleridge's 'Effusion XXXV' (later "The Eolian Harp'), discussing possible poetic and philosophical sources for Coleridge's synaesthetic expérimentation in the light of his notebook entries and letters, This chapter offers an interprétation of the rôle of synaesthetic imagery in a poem revised over many years, revealing Coleridge's interest in the inherent iatency' of the différent senses as well as the centrality of synaesthetic experience to his idea of 'One Life'. Chapter 3 examines the sensuous poetry of John Keats in an attempt to contextualise his seeming commitment to a 'Life of Sensations'. By examining the intellectual fabric of the poem Lamia - notably contemporary medicine, chemistry and geology - this chapter investigates how the corporeal imagination is explored through condensed embodied synaesthetic epithets, such as the fragment 'scarlet pain', in a poem often ironically remembered primarily for its denunciation of 'cold philosophy'. Chapter 4 offers a close reading of Shelley's 'To a Sky- Lark' in conjunction with his Defense of Poetry, considering the lyric's amalgamating poetics through the prism of critical reception in order to re-evaluate T. S. Eliot's complaints about the vagueness of Shelley's figurative language. This chapter highlights Shelley's idéal of a harmonisation of the senses paradoxically enacted by an energetic juxtaposition of perceptual disruption, aptly symbolised by the 'harmonious madness' of the birdsong, which is shown to be revelatory of the divergent energies at play in literary synaesthesia.
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03/09/2018 10:51
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20/08/2019 15:59
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