Acoustics and Resonance in Poetry: The Psychological Reality of Rhyme in Baudelaire’s “Les Chats”

  • Reuven Tsur Tel Aviv University
Keywords: rhyme, resonance, phonetic coding, psychological reality, Tennyson, Baudelaire


This article uses the term “psychological reality” in this sense: the extent to which the constructs of linguistic theory can be taken to have a basis in the human mind, i.e., to somehow be reflected in human cognitive structures. This article explores the human cognitive structures in which the constructs of phonetic theory may be reflected. The last section is a critique of the psychological reality of sound patterns in Baudelaire’s “Les Chats”, as discussed in three earlier articles. In physical terms, it defines “resonant” as “tending to reinforce or prolong sounds, especially by synchronous vibration”. In phonetic terms it defines “resonant” as “where intense precategorical auditory information lingers in short-term memory”. The effect of rhyme in poetry is carried by similar overtones vibrating in the rhyme fellows, resonating like similar overtones on the piano. In either case, we do not compare overtones item by item, just hear their synchronous vibration. I contrast this conception to three approaches: one that points out similar sounds of “internal rhymes”, irrespective of whether they may be contained within the span of short-term memory (i.e., whether they may have psychological relit); one that claims that syntactic complexity may cancel the psychological reality of “internal rhymes” (whereas I claim that it merely backgrounds rhyme); and one that found through an eye-tracking experiment that readers fixate longer on verse-final rhymes than on other words, assuming regressive eye-movement (I claim that rhyme is an acoustic not visual phenomenon; and that there is a tendency to indicate discontinuation by prolonging the last sounds in ordinary speech and blank verse too, as well as in music — where no rhyme is involved).


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Author Biography

Reuven Tsur, Tel Aviv University

Unfortunately the author passed away while this issue of SMP was in preparation.