Definition of Kinesthesia

Kinesthesia is a type of imagery which is used as a poetic device. It is a poetic device that gives a feeling of natural or physical bodily movement or action (like a heartbeat, a pulse and breathing). It also refers to tension along with the movement.

Since the word kinetic means motion or movement, therefore, kinesthetic imagery is the representation of the actions and movements of an object or a character. Famous authors William Shakespeare and W. Wordsworth, respectively wrote the following examples of kinesthesia:

“This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice…”

(Measure for Measure)

Here, Shakespeare presents the phrases “warm motion” and “clod” as kinesthetic imagery.

“Tossing their heads in sprightly dance…”

(I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud)

Classification of Kinesthesia

Kinesthetic imagery is further divided into various categories:

  • Touch: Like running fingers on silk fabric
  • Physical movement: Gives feelings of involvement in an activity, like walking on grass
  • Temperature: For example, it might involve sunlight falling over the body
  • Feelings: Internal feelings like being angry, sad, happy, peaceful and calm.

Examples of Kinesthesia from Literature

Example #1

With a wild rattle and clatter, and an inhuman abandonment of consideration not easy to be understood in these days, the carriage dashed through streets and swept round corners, with women screaming before it, and men clutching each other and clutching children out of its way. At last, swooping at a street corner by a fountain, one of its wheels came to a sickening little jolt, and there was a loud city from a number of voices, and the horses reared and plunged….

(A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)

In this example, kinesthesia is used as the movements of a carriage that is constantly moving along the streets and the physical actions of women and children. These movements are shown in bold words.

Example #2

The gray sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low;
And startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i’ the slushy sand.
Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, thro’ its joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!

(Meeting At Night by Robert Browning)

The speaker’s descriptions of the physical features of the landscape are good Kinesthesia examples. Kinesthesia is employed in lines such as “waves leap, sleep” and the speaker is sailing in a boat which is described as a “pushing prow”. There are other words suggesting physical actions like speed, cross and finally “two hearts beating…”

Example #3

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

(I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by W. Wordsworth)

Wordsworth describes the beautiful daffodils and their movement as dancing.. He explains how they grow and their physical movement. Kinesthesia is used as in words, such as “stretched”, “tossing” their heads and “dance”.

Example #4

At this, through all his bulk an agony
Crept gradual, from the feet unto the crown,
Like a lithe serpent vast and muscular
Making slow way, with head and neck convulsed
From over-strained might

(Hyperion by John Keats)

Here, kinesthetic imagery is used as an awareness of the movement and
muscle tension. This excerpt is a perfect example of kinesthesia. Keats describes beautifully the muscular agony and feelings of exhaustion.

Function of Kinesthesia

Kinesthsia is used in poetry and prose to describe the vivid physical actions or movements of characters and objects. It is used as a graphic and vibrant technique of scenes that appeals to the senses of the readers. Besides, it helps the imagination of a reader to envision the scenes and characters in literary works. Kinesthesia could be used in two forms; descriptive and figurative. In addition, the writers not only employ kinesthesia for physical movements, they also create images based on the intensity of feelings and depth of meaning.

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