Melodies of Mind: Poetic Forms as Cognitive Structures

David Alexander Stewart Duff

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Citation (Scopus)


Researchers in the field of cognitive poetics seeking historical endorsement of their work can turn with satisfaction to the statement by the poet-critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge that “Poetry, even that of the loftiest and, seemingly, that of the wildest odes” has “a logic of its own, as severe as that of science; and more difficult, because more subtle, more complex, and dependent on more, and more fugitive causes” (Biographia 1: 9). Writing in 1815, not only does Coleridge affirm the fundamental premise of cognitive poetics-that poetry is a distinctive form of cognition, amenable to rational investigation-but also he does so in the strongest possible terms, claiming for poetry, even of the “wildest” kind, a logical rigor analogous to that of science. By “logic” we can understand here a system of thought governed by strict principles of validity. Coleridge was to write a major treatise on philosophical logic; his extension of the term here to poetry overturns a commonplace dating back to Plato that denies poetry the status of rational discourse and finds its distinguishing feature to lie in its breach of, or deviation from, the rules of thought and expression normally defined as “logical.” The grounds on which Coleridge offers this revaluation of poetry are not specified, but his statement echoes others in his writings that speak of poetry adhering to the “logic of passion” as distinct from the “logic of grammar” (Lectures 2: 427) or that claim (more cautiously) that verses, without being logic in themselves, “are, or ought to be, the envoys or representatives of that vital passion which is the practical cement of logic, and without which logic must remain inert” (Miscellaneous Criticism 277; cf. Table Talk 1: 126). For Coleridge, the cognitive power of poetry is not that of ratiocination, or abstract reasoning; what distinguishes poetic logic is its union of “thought” and “passion,” the “head” and the “heart” (Biographia 1: 25).1 In modern parlance, the “cognitive” in poetry is inseparable from the “affective,” and we have here a definition of poetry as a product of the “embodied” mind-a type of thinking that exposes the material texture of thought, its biological substratum or “cement.”
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCognition, Literature and History
EditorsMark J. Bruhn, Donald R. Wehrs
Number of pages22
ISBN (Print)9780415722094, 0415722098
Publication statusPublished - 17 Dec 2013

Publication series

NameRoutledge Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Literature


Dive into the research topics of 'Melodies of Mind: Poetic Forms as Cognitive Structures'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this