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Book Chapter

Empirical Aesthetics of Poetry


Menninghaus,  Winfried       
Department of Language and Literature, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Max Planck Society;


Blohm,  Stefan       
Department of Language and Literature, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Max Planck Society;

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Menninghaus, W., & Blohm, S. (2022). Empirical Aesthetics of Poetry. In M. Nadal, & O. Vartanian (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Empirical Aesthetics (pp. 704-720). Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198824350.013.33.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0006-EDF9-7
Poetry enjoys greater liberties (“poetic license”) than all other uses of language to depart from a variety of grammatical and discourse-semantic constraints that typically shape verbal messages. At the same time, poetry frequently conforms to additional formal constraints on the selection and combination of linguistic elements, e.g., meter, rhyme, and other types of parallelism. Surveying empirical research into the cognitive, stylistic, and aesthetic effects of parallelistic features and poetic license, we argue that both types of deviation affect processing fluency in distinct ways and on distinct levels of processing. Poetic license renders verse cognitively more challenging, i.e., harder to comprehend and more ambiguous, but also more “poetic.” Parallelistic diction, by contrast, increases predictability and perceptual processing fluency; it underlies the rhythmical and melodic properties that link poetry and music. Sound parallelism has further been shown to enhance the memorability of verse, and to render humoristic verse more humorous and emotionally moving poems more moving, beautiful, melodic, and vivid, but also richer in meaning. We further survey investigations of the sound-iconic properties of verse, semantic figures (most notably, poetic metaphor), and mood representation, as well as of readers’ dispositions favoring poetry reading. We conclude by identifying directions for future research.