Poetic Terminology: Synaesthesia

By Nikki Anne Schmutz

As a poet, it is vital to know poetry terminology! Awareness of the devices used to create specific poetry styles will help us broaden our own style and skill. As we learn – we recognize the device, we see how other writers utilize it in their poetry, and we begin to dabble in something new. Creating our own version of something we learn is like the final exam of self-study.

Today we look at the use of Synaesthesia. By definition, the word synesthesia usually refers to a psychological or neurological issue in which sensory stimulus from one sense is mixed up with another sense. Poetically it is used figuratively by mixing up the normal pairings to create a visually and emotionally charged representation.

Synaesthesia is used to describe sensory impression in a different way or sense, or perception in terms of a totally different or even opposite feeling.  For example: “darkness visible” or “green thought”.

Synesthesia appears in ancient literatures, including both the Iliad and Odyssey. In the 19th century it gained popularity. Writers such as Charles Baudelaire, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Dame Edith Sitwell, George Meredith, and Arthur Rimbaud all had a hand in cementing synaesthesia as a poetic device.

 

The Ragpickers’ Wine
BY CHARLES BAUDELAIRE

In the muddy maze of some old neighborhood,
Often, where the street lamp gleams like blood,
As the wind whips the flame, rattles the glass,
Where human beings ferment in a stormy mass,

One sees a ragpicker knocking against the walls,
Paying no heed to the spies of the cops, his thralls,
But stumbling like a poet lost in dreams;
He pours his heart out in stupendous schemes.

He takes great oaths and dictates sublime laws,
Casts down the wicked, aids the victims’ cause;
Beneath the sky, like a vast canopy,
He is drunken of his splendid qualities.

Yes, these people, plagued by household cares,
Bruised by hard work, tormented by their years,
Each bent double by the junk he carries,
The jumbled vomit of enormous Paris,—

They come back, perfumed with the smell of stale
Wine-barrels, followed by old comrades, pale
From war, mustaches like limp flags, to march
With banners, flowers, through the triumphal arch

Erected for them, by some magic touch!
And in the dazzling, deafening debauch
Of bugles, sunlight, of huzzas and drum,
Bring glory to the love-drunk folks at home!

Even so, wine pours its gold to frivolous
Humanity, a shining Pactolus;
Then through man’s throat of high exploits it sings
And by its gifts reigns like authentic kings.

To lull these wretches’ sloth and drown the hate
Of all who mutely die, compassionate,
God has created sleep’s oblivion;
Man added Wine, divine child of the Sun.

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