Craig White's Literature Courses

Terms / Themes


(or Synaesthesia)


OED 1.c. Psychology. Production, from a sense-impression of one kind, of an associated mental image of a sense-impression of another kind

2. Literature. The use of metaphors in which terms relating to one kind of sense-impression are used to describe sense-impressions of other kinds; the production of synæsthetic effect in writing or an instance of this.

ex. G.Stern 1932: "Synaesthesia is especially common among adjectives but there are numerous instances of nouns: The sound and light of sweeter songs (Swinburne)."

Examples of synesthesia:

"a warm color"

  • "Many of the metaphors we use every day are synesthetic, describing one sensory experience with vocabulary that belongs to another. Silence is sweet, facial expressions are sour. Sexually attractive people are hot; sexually unattractive people leave us cold. A salesman's patter is smooth; a day at the office is rough. Sneezes are bright; coughs are dark. Along with pattern recognition, synesthesia may be one of the neurological building blocks of metaphor."
    (James Geary, I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See. HarperCollins, 2011)

Synaesthesia: The term is applied in literature to the description of one kind of sensation in terms of another. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Peter's voice upon entering the Beavers' hiding place is described as being "tired and pale in the darkness" (99). "Pale" is a sight adjective used to describe a sound, "Peter's voice."

Instead of saying "the pie tasted warm and fresh," you would say "the pie tasted like sunlight."

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."





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