Synesthesia is a rhetorical stylistic device and also a special feature of the perception of sensory stimuli. A stylistic figure is the circumstance that several senses are mixed together. Thus, sounds can taste or colors smell. Typical is the stylistic means for the romantic, but emerges in all epochs and genera.
The term can be derived from ancient Greek (συναισθάνομαι ~ synaisthanomai) and translated by at the same time perception or sympathetic. According to this, the translation already reveals what is involved with the stylistic figure: namely the simultaneous mediation of several sensory impressions within a literary work. Let’s look at an example.
Sweet the bells never sound
as at the Christmas time,
This example shows the first two verses of the first stanza of a very well-known Christmas song. In the first verse, the adjective sweet and the verb sound together. The bells sound sweet. However, the characteristic sweet is to be perceived only by the taste, while the sound is recorded with the ears. The sweetness of a sound can not be heard.
Accordingly, two different sensory impressions were connected in the example. The effect is that the object is sensually perceived. The sound thus becomes a taste experience, which is quite a closeness to metaphor and personification (see metaphor examples). Yet another example.
Listen, the flute laments again,
and the cool fountains rushing,
golden weep the sounds –
Silence, silence, let us listen!
The above stanza is taken from the poem by the writer Clemens Brentano. Here all kinds of style figures are used. The flute is personified by complaining, the fountains rushing in a phantastic manner, the doubling of the word stillness being a geminatio, the poem following the cross-rhyme. However, synaesthesia is also found in the combination of golden and tones.
Here, too, two sensory impressions are connected with one another. Sounds can only be heard and not seen. The golden one, however, is to be perceived only through the eyes. The sound becomes a visually perceptible experience. Finally, let’s look at an example of Eduard Mörike.
The ancient old slumber,
She does not care, she is tired;
You sound bluish the heavenly sweet yet,
The yoke of the same moment.
This section from the poem At midnight also has a synaesthesia. Here an object of seeing, ie the blue, is transported into the range of the acoustic (audible). Furthermore, the blue is associated with the taste, when it is described as sweet in the poem. In this case as well, the figure allows to capture a color with other senses, which is otherwise not possible.
Note: Connecting multiple sensory impressions can have a reinforcing effect. Furthermore, the otherwise objective can be sensed, sensitively, sensed and mediated.
Synesthesia in the literature
Although synaesthesia can be found in all literary genres, and even appears in many areas of the everyday language (warm colors, screaming reds, dark tones, etc.), above all, we can discover the stylistic means in lyric poetry.
The first major attempt to combine the various sensory impressions is, however, not found in literature, but in music. Athanasius Kircher, a scholar of the 17th century, built a so-called “eye organ”, which was to combine the visual with the acoustic.
At the same time, pressing a button triggered a mechanism, which in a small box or jar a play of color. A correspondence of this instrument is the clavessin oculaire, that is, the eye piano, by Louis B. Castel. Voltaire, a French author of the European Enlightenment, described the eye piano as “the music for the eyes”.
Nevertheless, we already find in the ancient world some products which use the stylistic means, as for example in Vergil, a poet and epic. However, the pronounced use of synaesthesia in the lyricism of the baroque and, above all, in the works of the Romantic period becomes clear and can be regarded as characteristic. From this period also the examples, which were presented at the beginning (see Literaturepochen) come from.
Effect and function of synaesthesia
Of course, it is very difficult to attribute a unique effect or function to a stylistic device. However, stylistic figures always have an effect on the receiver (reader, listener), which can be described. However, this approach should be checked and not simply adopted.