What is Synesthesia in Literature

What is Synesthesia in Literature

Synesthesia is a literary device where one sense is described in terms of another. It is a fusion of senses and implies the strong connection, link or bond between the different senses. In general, the term synesthesia refers to a medical disorder where sensory modalities become joined together.

The technique synesthesia is also used our daily life. For example, consider phrases like warm colors, loud colors, bitter silence, bright sound, etc. You’ll note that these words are made from words that pertain to different senses. For instance, the word loud pertains to the sense of hearing and the word colors pertains to the sense of sight. Similarly, bitter is related to the sense of taste whereas silence is related to the sense of hearing. These phrases create a blend of senses.

Synesthesia often takes the form of a simile. For example, consider the phrase “thy voice is like wine to me” taken from Oscar Wild’s Salome. The words wine and voice are related to two different senses; wine to the taste and voice to the sound.

Writers mainly use synesthesia to communicate their ideas to the readers more creatively. By fusing two or more senses, they are able to make their work more meaningful and interesting. Synesthesia also adds more meaning to a sentence and helps to create vivid imagery in the readers’ mind.

What is Synesthesia in Literature

The Senses of Hearing, Touch and Taste

Examples of Synesthesia in Literature

“The silence that dwells in the forest is not so black” – Oscar Wilde, Salome

Here, the use of silence and black which pertains to the sense of hearing and sense of sight respectively creates synesthesia.

“And the hyacinth purple, and white, and blue,
Which flung from its bells a sweet peal anew
Of music so delicate, soft, and intense,
It was felt like an odour within the sense.”

– Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Sensitive Plan

In this poem, Shelly has used synesthesia by combining the words that appeal to the sense of smell, sight, and hearing.

“She looked at him in horror. He repeated his words. They cut the air like a dagger. The people round began to gape. A lady standing close to her tittered.” –  Oscar Wilde’s A Picture of Dorian Gray

In the above excerpt, words have been compared to a dagger that cuts through the air. The dagger can be related to the sense of sight and words are related to the sense of hearing.

“LORD GORING: I have promised to look in at the Hartlocks’.  I believe they have got a mauve Hungarian band that plays mauve Hungarian music.”- An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wild

The color Mauve has been used to describe music in the above example. Mauve pertains to visual imagery and music pertains to auditory imagery.

 “Back to the region where the sun is silent.”

– Dante’s The Devine Comedy

In this phrase, sun has been described as silent. The sun is generally associated with the sense of touch (warmth, heat) and silent is associated with sound or hearing.

Image Courtesy:

“The Senses of Hearing, Touch and Taste, 1618; copy c. 1620″ by Jan Brueghel the Elder – Web Gallery of Art:   Image Info about artwork (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia 

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