Belekhova (Kiev)

From ancient times linguistic theory has had a passion for categorization. Categorization is the way of knowing things, the way to reduce the limitless variations in the world to manageable proportions. Poetic language, poetic images protesting any type of categorization have always been the domain of literary studies. Cognitive linguistics and the theory of prototypical semantics challenged the existing studies of poetry and prompted the way the verbal images and semantics of poetic texts can be analyzed. Poetic texts yielded to cognitive studies. A new branch of linguistics - cognitive poetics, appeared.

Following M. Freeman, I recognize cognitive poetics as a theory of literature that is both grounded in the language of literary texts and in the cognitive linguistic strategies which the readers use to understand them (Freeman 1997:4). Cognitive poetics is also based on E. Rosch's prototype theory and on the theory of conceptual metaphor and metonymy ( Rosch 1977, Lakoff and Johnson 1980). Under cognitive theory, categories form radial relationships, from the most prototypical to the least prototypical. Readings of a certain poem can be considered members of the category which includes all possible interpretations of the poem. In the theory of metaphor G. Lakoff, M. Johnson and M. Turner have shown how basic conceptual metaphors enable us to understand abstract notions through our embodied experiences and to appreciate their power in constructing the way we see our world (Lakoff, Johnson 1980; Lakoff 1987; Turner 1996). Many of the existing readings of the poems by well known poets can be seen to be compatible with a cognitive metaphor analysis that reveal the central, prototypical reading of the poems. Besides above mentioned theories, cognitive poetics includes a theory of analogical mapping which shows how the analogies are drawn using different skills of seeing similarity, seeing relationships, and seeing structural systems (Holyoak, Thagard 1995; Freeman 1997). Literary critics often map at the attribute and relational levels in their analyses of poetic texts. Rarely do they map at the system mapping level. M. Freeman was the first who showed the distinction between readings produced by using only partial mappings and that produced as a result of applying system mapping (Freeman 1997, 1999). However, it is claimed in this paper that not only metaphor and metonymy underlie system mapping but also oxymoron.

Cognitive poetics takes into account the theory of mental spaces and conceptual integration (blending) that explains the processes by which the human mind creates and relates abstract conceptualizations (Fauconnier 1994; Fauconnier, Turner 1996).

This article is supposed to contribute to the development of cognitive poetics by working out cognitive models of verbal poetic images applying the above mentioned methodology.

The primary goal of this research is finding an adequate interpretation of a poetic text on the basis of cognitive models of verbal poetic images. It is assumed that verbal poetic images constitute the dominant of a poetic text message and that text formation as well as the function of textual elements are regulated by some cognitive mechanisms. In the text there exists a program of its interpretation, the strategies and tactics of correlation of text semantics with the knowledge about the structure of communication that are embodied in the text (Vorobyova 1996: 165). It is claimed that 'image space exploration' can be treated as cognitive strategy in poetic texts interpretation.

The paper intends to demonstrate cognitive mechanisms underlying the formation of new poetic images. It is hypothesised that a verse represents a poetic image space that can be regarded as the medium where everyday concepts undergo modifications and become poetic images. The image landscapes of poetic texts differ from each other in the way poetic images are interwoven in them.

A poetic image is seen as a cognitive structure which has two planes - conceptual and verbal. The conceptual plane of the image is understood as a unity of the eidetic (holistic) and the logic (discrete). The idea of discreteness has been laid at the basis of conceptual analysis of verbal poetic images within the framework of idealized cognitive models or image-schemas (Langacker 1987, 1991; Lakoff, Johnson 1980; Lakoff 1987).

Conceptual analysis of rich empirical data obtained from contemporary American poetry suggested figuring out two groups of poetic images: the old (archetypes and stereotypes) and new ones (idiotypes and kainotypes).

It is hypothesised that a verse represents some poetic image space that can be regarded as the medium where everyday concepts undergo modifications and become poetic images. This medium has its own parameters and dimensions of existence. The poetic image space underlies a textual world with its micro- and macro-structures, which influence the interpretation of a text by its reader. This interpretation depends on the reader's background knowledge that presupposes his/her acquaintance with the prototypes inherent in a certain culture. A prototype is understood as a culturally dependent ''best representative'' of the category (Rosch 1978; Lakoff 1980; 1987; Taylor 1995). In this research, the latter is regarded as a set of poetic isotypical (similar) images. All these images are presumed to descend to a definite archetype. Archetype is the concept shared by all humans, irrespective of their nationality, race and cultural code (Jung 1991; Wierzbicka 1996). Archetype can be embodied in several prototypical images. Each of them underlies a number of idiotypes. Idiotype is a prototype's modification preferred by a particular writer. It is a complex image which reflects idiolect and idiostyle of the author, his peculiarities of world perception. Idiotype is built on the basis of a certain prototype and a set of isotypes. Among idiotypes there can be found kainotypes, or the concepts the novelty of which provides a breakthrough into a new conceptual domain. In certain cases a clash between the image space of the archetype and the image space of the idiotype gives birth to a kainotype.

The analysis of the data confirms the hypothesis put forward in the paper. One of the most frequent archetypal concepts found in poetry is HUMAN LIFE. A prototypical incarnation of this concept is represented in the metaphorical image schema HUMAN LIFE is like WATER. Specification of this schema results in the sub-schema HUMAN LIFE is like RUNNING WATER This sub-schema is developed into the idiotypes HUMAN LIFE is like A RIVER (this river of young-woman life: Sandburg) and HUMAN LIFE is like A STREAM (life's clear stream: Frost). The example of a kainotype is HUMAN LIFE is like A SHOWER (in a shower of all my days: Thomas), in which the image of RUNNING WATER is expanded via adding the concepts of INTENSITY and ABLUTION.

Within a poetic image space we observe the extension: archetype prototypes idiotypes kainotypes. Conceptual metaphor serves as a cognitive mechanism to trigger this extension. Another mechanism which performs the same function is conceptual metonymy. This statement can be illustrated by the prototype HUMAN LIFE (whole) is MOTION (part). Specification of this prototypical schema results in the sub-schemas HUMAN LIFE is AN INTENDED MOTION. The sub-schema is developed into the idiotypes: HUMAN LIFE IS A RACE (and half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race: Owen), LIFE is A JOURNEY (two roads diverged in a wood, and I - I took the one lest traveled by: Frost). Frost's idiotype is modified into the kainotype: but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep, where the image of INTENDED MOVEMENT overlaps with the image of DUTY to be carried out by humans.

The image space exploration using cognitive models of verbal poetic images leads to a deep hermeneutic understanding of a poetic text. The empirical data obtained from contemporary American poetry provide a strong evidence for such an assertion. The cognitive tracks of image space exploration can be illustrated on the examples from W.Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird". The poetic image "It was evening all afternoon" is a configuration of three image-schemas: prototypical image-schemas "EVENING IS DARKNESS", "DAY IS LIGHT" and an archetypal schema "DARKNESS IS SORROW, GRIEF". The oxymoronic and metonymic interactions of three conceptual image spaces give rise to a blend where the message of this poetic image emerges - the mood was down all day, or one experienced grief and sorrow the whole day.

The message of the poetic image: "A man and a woman/are one. A man and a woman and a blackbird/ are one" - is explicated by virtue of the interaction of two underlying archetypal images: TRINITY and HARMONY. The meaning arises from the unconscious collective belief (Jung 1996) that 3 is a sacred number denoting harmony, wholeness and that harmony is completeness, wholeness, blessed feeling. Conceptual blend of two mental spaces of the archetypes TRINITY IS COMPLETENESS and HARMONY IS COMPLETENESS give rise to the meaning of the above-mentioned poetic image.

Thus, a poetic image is a verbal embodiment of the configuration of various conceptual image-schemas. The core of conceptual plane of a verbal poetic image is prototypical schema.

The elaboration of prototypical categorization as an alternative to a classical theory of categories made it possible to put forward the idea of the image space categorization in terms of prototypical semantics. Within the framework of the classical approach to categories its members were seen as entities which stood in opposition to one another and shared a conjunction of necessary and sufficient features (Lakoff 1987: 13; Taylor 1995: 23). These features according to Aristotle must follow the law of contradiction and the law of the excluded middle (Aristotle, Metaphysics, 4, 4). The law of contradiction states that a thing cannot both be and not be, it cannot both possess a feature and not possess it, it cannot both belong to a category and not belong to it. The law of excluded middle states that a thing must either be or not be, it must either possess a feature or not possess it, it must either belong to a category or not belong to it (Taylor 1995: 23). In classical category features of the category members are binary, primitive, universal, abstract and innate, all members of the category have equal status and the categories have clear boundaries (Langacker 1987: 34-45; Taylor 1995: 30). Challenging classical view on the categories "the prototype theory and basic-level categorization" (Rosch 1977) allows fuzzy boundaries and flexibility of their categories. A prototypical category is not structured in terms of shared criterial features, but rather by a criss-crossing network of similarities, which are attributes typically associated with the category (Taylor 1995:38).

In this article prototypical categories of verbal poetic images are seen as sets of isotypical or similar images. I arrived at this conclusion after the following considerations. The idea of image space presupposes that each image exists in poetic worlds not by itself but in the row of similar (isotypical) images, which differ from each other by their surface syntactic structures and lexical embodiment but can be united into one and the same group by virtue of the identical cognitive image schema underlying each image. For example, the image "a two-horn silver moon" (Sandburg, 286) enters a row of similar images: "the candles of the moon" ( Sandburg, 261), "when the moon was a hammock of gold" ( Sandburg, 406), "a cradle moon rides" (Sandburg, 89). In all of the images the moon is compared to a THING on the ground of FORM. The lexical embodiment of the elements of the image may change, but all the images are united into one category by virtue of the same prototypical image-schema MOON is THING which underlies each image. Prototypical schema is a core of conceptual structure of a verbal poetic image. It is represented by a binary opposition of the concepts which express the general meaning of the entities that constitute a syntactic structure of an image. The prototype image-schema STARS - CONFIGURATION unites the row of the following poetic images: "a monkey of stars climbed up and down" (Sandburg,401), "across the changing triangles of stars" (Sandburg, 320), "across the cattle-horns of early stars" (Sandburg, 205), "There are a tree of stars sprang out" (Sandburg, 401), "...and was gone in a big door of stars" (Sandburg, 398), "Let a bag of shooting stars fall" (Sandburg, 398), "came in a points and crystalls a shovel of stars" (Sandburg, 336), "a bridge of stars" (Sandburg, 406), "a spray of stars" (Sandburg, 402), "a spatter of stars" (Sandburg, 401), "there were deer feet and horns of stars on the sky" (Sandburg, 702), "the stars make sevens and sixes" (Sandburg, 702). The verbal poetic images: " It is the ride of their tiny lives" (Eady, 89); "Days marching single in an endless file" (Emerson, 108); "the tossing turbulence of life" (Whittermore, 1085) - have similar conceptual structure based on cognitive metaphor LIFE - MOVEMENT.

As it is seen from the examples verbal poetic images can be represented by image-schemas construed on the basis of conceptual metaphors, metonymies, oxymorons. This is the first step to cognitive model construal. Cognitive models can be called "representations" but they are not internal representations of external reality (Lakoff 1987:341). They are not for two reasons: first, because they are understood in terms of embodiment, not in terms of direct connection to the external world; and second, because they include imaginative aspects of cognition such as metaphor and metonymy.

Cognitive model of a verbal poetic image is typically recognized as a complex structure, defined by all sorts of image-schemas. The elements of the image-schema are represented by symbols. It should be noted that the term "symbol" is not used in the same way as in most other symbolic systems. In most symbolic systems, symbols are either entities ( with no significant internal structure) or complexes with building-block structure. The symbolic system used in cognitive science and in this work has a gestalt structure (Lakoff 1987:284). Some symbols in our cognitive models may be directly meaningful: the basic level and image-schematic concepts. Other symbols are understood indirectly via their relationship to directly understood concepts. Such relationships are defined by special image-schemas that structure cognitive model of a verbal poetic image (op. cit.) Cognitive models are not slices of reality. "The entities" of the cognitive model are mental entities, not real things. In order for thinking and interpretation of the poetic image to take place elaborate constructions must occur to draw on conceptual capacities, highly structured background and contextual knowledge, image-schemas induction, and mapping capabilities. Language does not itself do the cognitive building - it just gives us minimal but sufficient clues for finding the domains and principles appropriate for building in a given situation. Once these clues are combined with already existing configurations, available cognitive principles and background framing, the appropriate construction can take place. Image schemas characterize conceptual structure of a verbal poetic image. They may also characterize its syntactic structure (Lakoff 1987:290).

Analogical reasoning as a general principle of cognitive analysis serves the unfolding the mechanism of image formation in the image space of a poetic text. This principle illuminates how we map the elements of one cognitive domain onto another, explicating the nature of linguistic phenomena occurring in the creation of images such as metaphor, metonymy, oxymoron and all types of repetitions.

It is claimed in this paper that besides analogical, counter and associative reasoning underlie all types of mappings. Mapping is universally recognized as a cognitive process of drawing analogies using different skills of seeing similarity (Holyoak 1995; Freeman 1997). Analogical mappings are viewed as higher level reasoning processing, not at the core of direct language interpretation (Fauconnier 1994:XXV). A variety of constructions involving analogy, metaphor, and hedges set up multispace configurations with source, target, generic and blended spaces that project onto each other in several directions.

Application of the above mentioned theoretical assumptions leads to the following definition of the verbal poetic image cognitive model:

  • Cognitive model of a verbal poetic image is a construal which combines various image schemas, representing three basic elements: the referent concept, the vehicle concept associated with the referent, the ground concept which exhibits the feature shared by the referent and vehicle. The ground is established with regard to the context in which an image occurs.
  • It also includes mental spaces of the concepts which constitute the image space of the poetic text and the connectors which show the paths of cognitive mappings across different input domains.


Fauconnier, G. 1994. Mappings in Thought and Language. Cambridge (Mass.): Cambridge University Press.
Fauconnier, G., Turner, M. 1996. 'Blending as a Central Process of Grammar' in Conceptual Structure, Discourse and Language. /Ed. by A. E Goldberg. Stanford: CSLI Publications.
Freeman, M. 1997. 'Poetry and the Scope of Metaphor: Toward a Cognitive Theory of Literature' in State of the Art and Applications to English Studies. ESSE 4, Debrecen, Hungary.
Holyoak, K .J. and Thagard, P. 1995. Mental Leaps: Analogy in Creative Thought. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press / Bradford Books.
Jung, K. G.1991. Archetypes and Symbols. M.: Renaissance.
Lakoff, G., Johnson, M. 1980. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
Lakoff, G. 1987. Women, Fire and Dangerous Things. What Categories Reveal About the Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lakoff, G. 1993. 'The contemporary theory of metaphor' in Metaphor and Thought. Ortony (ed.). (Second ed., pp. 202--251) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Langacker, R. 1987. Foundations of Cognitive Grammar. Vol. 1. Theoretical Prerequisites. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Langacker, R. 1991. Foundations of Cognitive Grammar. Vol. 2. Descriptive Application. Stanford: Stanford University Press
Rosch, T. 1977. 'Principles of Categorization' in Cognition and Categorization. E. Rosch and B. B. Lloyd (eds.). Hillsdale, N. J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Taylor, J. R. 1995. Linguistic Categorization: Prototypes in Linguistic Theory. London, New York: Rutledge.
Turner, M. 1996. The Literary Mind. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
Vorobyova, O. 1996. 'Linguistic Signals of Addressee-Orientation in the Source and Target Literary Text: A Comparative Study' in The Parasession on Theory and Data in Linguistics. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.
Wierzhbicka , A. 1996. Semantics, Culture and Cognition. Universal Human Concepts in Culture Specific Configurations. New York, Oxford: Clarendon Press.


The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg. 1970. San Diego, New York, London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers.
Norton Anthology of Modern American Poetry. 1989. New York: Penguin Books.
R. Frost's Poems. With an introduction and commentary by L. Untermeyer. 1967. New York, London: Washington Square Press.