Opaque Enigmas: Mind, Body, and Metaphor in W.H. Auden's Poetry

[Abstract of dissertation in progress]

by Craig Hamilton
University of Maryland


Like most great poets, W.H. Auden was adept at metaphor, especially when writing about the mind and body. This dissertation, a study of Auden's metaphors for the body and the mind, answers a question he saw behind every poem: "Here is a verbal contraption. How does it work?" While such a question confronts the function of so-called figurative language, recent findings in linguistics have made it easier to account for a poem's aesthetic impact and describe that impact systematically. By applying insights made by cognitive linguists to the study of certain metaphors, my dissertation to some extent explains how poetry works. This project concerns readers who want to know more about Auden's mind and body metaphors, as well as those interested in the cognitive processes that underlie such metaphors. Both the conceptual metaphor model (developed by George Lakoff, Mark Johnson, and Mark Turner in the 1980s) and the conceptual integration model (developed by Gilles Fauconnier and Turner in the 1990s) are utilized here because they allow us to identify nonarbitrary patterns behind Auden's metaphors.

In the introduction, I spell out my choice of Auden and the draw of cognitive poetics before defining for readers central terms such as metaphor, domains, mapping, and conceptual integration in chapter one, "The Cognitive Architecture of Poetry." Next, in "The Spatial Body," I trace Auden's use of three metaphors: body-as-habitat, body-as-landscape, and body-as-city. Based on data from texts including The Age of Anxiety, "Thanksgiving for a Habitat," and "New Year Greeting," I demonstrate that conceptualizing the body in terms of these organized spatial structures reveals constraints on, and motivations for, such mappings. Whereas the body is often the target of spatial metaphors, it becomes the source when I turn to Auden's use of body language in chapter three, "The Mind as Body." Because comprehending body language requires having what developmental psychologists call a "theory of mind," we normally hold that a body communicates to us something about the mind it houses. We do this because we cannot access minds directly. Thus, body becomes source while mind becomes target in the MIND AS BODY conceptualizations found in poems ranging from "The Model" to "Horae Canonicae." In chapter 4, "The Mind to Body Spoke: EVENTS ARE ACTIONS Revisited," both body and mind become unified targets as Auden chooses personification as a rhetorical strategy to represent them. In texts such as The Dog Beneath the Skin, For the Time Being, "Memorial for the City," and "Precious Five," the habit of turning mind and body into personified agents is analyzed in terms of what Dennett has called our "intentional stance" toward objects in the world. Improving upon the EVENTS ARE ACTIONS view of personification taken by Lakoff and Turner some ten years ago, I posit a conceptual integration model that accounts for active zone metonymy problems found in Audenís personifications. In chapter five, "The Future of Cognitive Poetics," I conclude by arguing that Auden's trouble in separating the mind from the body was due to his reliance on similar conceptualizations of them. Then I turn to larger concerns, pointing out problems future research into cognitive poetics may solve, remarks which are meant to indicate where my own research is headed after the dissertation.

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