Synesthesia and Poetry

Synesthesia is a perception and sensation in which the stimulation of one sense results in other sense being activated. It is a real phenomenon with a biological basis that is found in a minority people. It is not a disorder. People with synesthesia experience the ordinary world in extraordinary ways. For instance, words can be tasted; names can have color, and the sequence of numbers may glide through space. The sound of a flute may be a pastel lemon color.

n neuroscience, synesthesia is a condition in which stimulation of one sensory modality causes unusual experiences in a different unstimulated modality. The term comes from the Greek word Syn which means together and aesthesis which means perception. Synesthesia is regarded as an extra sensation. Imagine someone who sees a tree and feels like tasting an apple. Someone who hears a music played on the piano and immediately feels a tickle on the tongue. A person who has synesthesia often mixes senses and perceptions. For example, one must hear the particular sound and connect it a sweet taste or to a bitter one. Perhaps a person sees an animal connects it to the feeling of joy, happiness or danger.

Synesthetic perceptions are specific to each person. If someone every time observes a particular letter, for example, the letter B, see the color green around it, another synesthetic person may see the same letter in a totally different color. What I am saying here is that synesthesia causes different feelings and perceptions in those who are synesthetes.  Synesthetic Perceptions can be involuntary, projected, double or generic, memorable or emotional.

Involuntary – People who have synesthesia do not have control or reflect on their emotions.

Projected – People do not experience synesthetic perceptions in their minds, but they project them outside their bodies.

Generic – The perception is the same every time a person has the same experience. For example, if the person listens to a particular song of Justin Bieber, he/she tastes the cod oil.

Emotional – Perceptions cause emotional reactions as a feeling of pleasure, anger, fear.

How does synesthesia affect poetry?

In poetry, synesthesia appears as a blending or confusion of different senses, such as visual, taste, touch, in which one sense always refers to another one. In this case, synesthesia, suggests visionary states through images which amplify the meaning of the text. An example is a reference or descriptions of some colors in an environment as loud or warm. a loud red house gives the reader the impression of an environment that is uncomfortable. When a sense is described using another sense, the poet creates images in the form of metaphor and simile. Romantic poets, such as Keats and Shelley, utilized synesthesia following the rule of senses hierarchy. For them, lower senses have less vocabulary to describe them while higher senses provide the possibility to describe them with more vocabulary. Sight has more descriptive words available as that is the primary sensory input that most humans use to understand the world. Synesthesia – the description of a sense impression in terms more appropriate to a different sense, the mixing of sense impressions to create metaphors. Poets duel on sense impressions.

In John Keats’ Ode to a Grecian Urn, observe and feel the sweet taste of the melodies:

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
       Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
       Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
       Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
               Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
       She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
               For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!


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