Sensory Language

Sensory Language Definition

Sensory Language is a word(s) used to invoke mental images and visualize the story or poem. While Imagery is a literary device that appeals to the reader’s senses, Sensory Language is a writing style and how the writers use the words to create images for the readers.  The writers present their emotions, thoughts, and ideas in a way that they tempt the reader’s imagination.  Although it is often inserted to uplift the reader’s imagination, it and plays a vital role in advancing the story or enhancing a poem.

Literally, sensory language is a phrase of two words; sensory and language. It means using language to create mental pictures that appeal to the sense of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.

Examples of Sensory Language from Literature

Example #1

 I Know Why the Caged Birds Sings by Maya Angelou

“But a bird that stalks
Down his narrow cage
Can seldom see through
His bars of rage
His wings are clipped and
His feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
With a fearful trill
Of things unknown
But longed for still
And his tune is heard
On the distant hill
For the caged bird
Sings of freedom.”

The poem is about the racial segregation and social discrimination prevalent in American society against black people. Using the metaphor of free birds, she has put forth the ideas of freedom, liberty, and justice. As sensory language pertains to the five senses, this poem is loaded with different images. The images for example, “free bird” and “back of wind” appeal to the sense of sight and feeling. Similarly, images such as, “orange sun rays” and “throat to sing” appeals to the sense of sight and hearing.

Example #2

 Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

 “A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.”

In Kubla Khan, the poet has artistically captured the alluring beauty of the extravagant palace about which he has read. He has skillfully painted a lively and complete picture of the palace, Xanadu. However, with the use of sensory language, Coleridge has added more to the beauty and grandeur of this majestic palace. This poem is rich with classical words and vivid images such as, “incense-bearing tree” appeals to the sense of smell. “The shadow of the doom of pleasure” that “floated midway on the waves” makes the reader visualize the enchanting scene. Also, the damsel with the dulcimer playing her song “loud and long” appeals to the sense of hearing.

Example #3

 Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges

 “The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite, perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries. In the center of each gallery is a ventilation shaft, bounded by a low railing. From any hexagon one can see the floors above and below-one after another, endlessly. The arrangement of the galleries is always the same: Twenty bookshelves, five to each side, line four of the hexagon’s six sides; the height of the bookshelves, floor to ceiling, is hardly greater than the height of a normal librarian. One of the hexagon’s free sides opens onto a narrow sort of vestibule, which in turn opens onto another gallery, identical to the first-identical in fact to all.”

Luis Borges has beautifully presented a metaphorical replica of the universe in this excellent piece of literature. His library is different from the libraries people encounter in the world. A reader can find millions of books no matter they are completed or not. On the one hand, some extracts make sense while on the other hand, it comprises texts that are completely absurd. However, the use of sensory language has added more to the rich description of this endless library. For example, “floors above and below-one after another,”, “Twenty bookshelves,” and “in turn opens onto another gallery” are the powerful images pertain to the sense of sight.

Example #4

 Macbeth by William Shakespeare, Act-I, Scene-I, Lines 1- 13

First Witch: When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
Second Witch: When the hurly-burly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.
Third Witch:   That will be ere the set of sun.
First Witch:     Where the place?
Second Witch: Upon the heath.
Third Witch:   There to meet with Macbeth.
First Witch:     I come, grimalkin!
Second Witch: Paddock calls.
Third Witch:   Anon!
ALL    Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air.

This is the opening scene of the play, Macbeth, where three witches appear to discuss their next meeting point. They decide to meet Macbeth in an open place where several battles have taken place. Shakespeare has used a cascade of images to set this dramatic scene. For example, “thunder” is used to make the readers conjure up an auditory sense in their mind and words like, “lightening” and “ere the set of sun” appeal to the sense of sight.

Sensory Language Meaning and Function

Sensory language is used to present a graphic presentation of an idea or thought. It provides readers with an opportunity to get absorbed in the text and experience as a character or an action sequence is described using Sensory Language. Also, using sensory details help writers to sketch a vivid experience for the audience.