In literature, synesthesia refers to a technique adopted by writers to present ideas, characters or places in such a manner that they appeal to more than one senses like hearing, seeing, smell etc. at a given time.
Generally, the term synesthesia refers to a certain medical condition in which one of the five senses simultaneously stimulates another sense. A person with such condition may not only see alphabets but also associate them with particular scents. This happens when the different parts of the brain that are responsible in identifying color, sound, taste, and smell somehow get interlinked and thus one sense triggers another sense.
Everyday Life Examples of Synesthesia
In everyday language, we find many examples of synesthesia such as the frequently used adjective “cool”. This word is generally associated with temperature. However, in casual conversations, ne can hear phrases like “cool dress” , “cool colors” or “you are looking cool” wherein the visual sensation is blended with the sense of touch. Moreover, we commonly hear phrases like “loud colors”, “frozen silence” and “warm colors”, “bitter cold” etc.
Synesthesia Examples in Literature
In literature, synesthesia is a figurative use of words that intends to draw out a response from readers stimulating multiple senses.
Dante’s The Devine Comedy contains one of the good synesthesia examples in literature. In the first canto, the poet tells us about a place called “Inferno”. He says, “Back to the region where the sun is silent.” Here, Dante binds the sense of sight (sun) with the sense of hearing(silent).
We notice synesthetic imageries in John Keats Ode to a Nightingale:
“Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provencal song, and sun burnt mirth!”
In the above example, Keats combines visual sensation with gustatory and auditory sensations. In the same poem, he further states:
“In some melodious plot,
Of beechen green,
Singest of summer in full throated ease.”
Keats associates the act of melodious singing with a plot covered with green beechen trees and thus connects visual sense with the sense of hearing.
We see Shakespeare employing synesthetic device in play King Lear Act 2, Scene 2:
“Thou art a lady: if only to go warm were gorgeous,
Why nature needs not what thou gorgeous wear’st,
Which scarcely keeps thee warm.”
In the above extract, “Lear” makes fun of his daughter “Goneril” for wearing revealing attire. He associates the word “warm” with “gorgeous” which is an attempt to blend the sense of touch with the sense of sight.
Robert Frost in his poem A Tuft of Flowers uses synesthesia:
“The butterfly and I had lit upon,
Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,
That made me hear the wakening birds around,
And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground…”
In the above excerpt, the speaker reveals a blend of sensory experiences that the speaker is experiencing. The speaker’s visual sense and his sense of hearing make him aware of his surroundings.
Emily Dickinson in her poem Dying:
“With blue, uncertain, stumbling buzz,
Between the light and me;
And then the windows failed, and then
could not see to see.”
Here, the poetess added a visual element of the sound “buzz” by describing it as having blue color.
The character “Saga” in Julia Glass’ novel The Whole World Over has a condition of synesthesia in which she seems to sense colors of the words she reads as illustrated below:
“The word would fill her mind for a few minutes with a single color: not an unpleasant sensation but still an intrusion… Patriarch: Brown, she thought, a temple of a word, a shiny red brown, like the surface of a chestnut.”
These lines are comments spoken by “Duffy” who thinks that Saga’s synesthesia is a distraction.
Function of Synesthesia
Writers employ this device to be creative in communicating their ideas to the readers. It makes their ideas more vivid and adds more layers of meaning to a text for the readers’ pleasure. By blending different senses, writers make their works more interesting and appealing.