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The emotional secrets of poetry

The connection between poetry and the images that crop up in our minds has never been clearly investigated. One EU project is unveiling these surprising connections of the emotional power of poetry and the images it conjures.

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The poetry of yesteryear, from the Greeks and Romans of antiquity to the English and Spanish in later centuries, conjures strong feelings that have shaped the thoughts and emotions of society. The EU-funded project 'The narrative lyric: Conceptual blending of spatial schemata with emotion in poetry and beyond' (Narlyr) is examining the emotional and metaphorical aspects of ancient poetry. It is combining conceptual integration, spatial schemas and analytic tools from cognitive sciences bringing together cultural and linguistic analysis, diachronic study, methodologies from philology and literary studies. This multidisciplinary project is a joint effort between the University of Murcia in Spain and two universities in the United States (Case Western Reserve University and the University of California San Diego). It is studying how poetic imagery conveys emotion through spatial stories or image schemas from childhood, looking at spatial interaction and verbal figurations to highlight effect and intentionality. Examples include poetic schemas such as a person emitting light to seduce someone, a god that shoots an arrow to provoke passion, and a wind that shakes the mind of a lover. Such implausible scenarios are conceptualised in our minds as infants and can recur in today's creative metaphors and language. The patterns of thought become ingrained within the human psyche and help process novel, elaborate poetic images creating interesting connections that affect thought and conceptualisation of emotions. Based on this research, the project is cataloguing these patterns and examining them both individually and in comparison. It has already produced in-depth studies related to image schemas in love metaphors and to time metaphors with affective meaning. More comparative work on the early developmental features of these schemas in poetry is expected to emerge from the project, as well as a detailed catalogue of conceptual blends of emotion and spatial structure. Narlyr results will surely support literature and literary theory on cognitive science. It will also reveal the necessity to combine humanities and the cognitive sciences for studying verbal art to understand the interplay between creativity, cognition and emotion. Narlyr has published several informative studies under this complex topic with more on the way.

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