The Romantic Roots of Cognitive Poetics: A Comparative Study of Poetic Metaphor in Herder, Novalis, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley

Christina Weiler, Purdue University


Based on an examination of German and English Romantic literature, my dissertation closes a gap between the study of metaphor in the context of cognition and the study of metaphor in literary scholarship. My project traces the Romantic roots of Cognitive Metaphor Theory as it is practiced today in order to harness the literary and philosophical tradition that grounds it. In my comparative study, I analyze the historical poetic texts of five influential and interrelated authors: the two German poet-philosophers Johann Gottfried Herder and Friedrich von Hardenberg, alias Novalis, and the three canonical English poets William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. I have selected these authors because each wrote complex theoretical reflections on the use and value of poetic metaphor, in addition to metaphorically rich poetry. I argue that metaphor is not a stylistic secondary feature but a cognitive tool for these eighteenth-century European philosopher-poets, and I show how their works anticipate and impact the study of metaphor today. In my introductory first chapter, I introduce Cognitive Metaphor Theory, the theoretical study of metaphor in disciplines that are concerned with the study of cognition, as it applies to my work. I present the current state of cognitive metaphor research, which is an evolving field, so that I can later compare and contrast it with the view of the Romantics in my dissertation. My second chapter analyzes poetic metaphor in the philosophical and poetic writings of Johann Gottfried Herder, who sees metaphor as the cognitive force that makes language creation possible. I contend that for Herder, metaphor is not only an epistemological but also a phenomenological tool with a mythological dimension. My third chapter focuses on Friedrich von Hardenberg, alias Novalis, who, in contrast to Herder, argues that language is an autonomous system defined by conceptual links, which are based on metaphorical connections. In chapter four, I analyze William Wordsworth’s aesthetic approach to metaphor, which presents poetry and metaphor as naturally intertwined reflections of reality that go beyond the mimetic through affect. Chapter five focuses on Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who, similar to Wordsworth, understands metaphor as strongly connected to imagination shaped by embodied passion. My sixth chapter analyzes the works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, who, following Herder and Coleridge, sees the origin of language in the creative power of metaphor. In my conclusion, I summarize my findings and show how my analysis of poetic metaphors in the works of the selected authors refines and expands Cognitive Metaphor Theory. My dissertation contributes to the field of literary studies by approaching canonical eighteenth-century European texts from a new comparative and interdisciplinary perspective. The analysis of metaphors in poetry holds a key to understanding the processes and mechanisms of creative conceptualizations. Creative metaphors have the power to make us re-conceptualize our human experience, and the poetic texts of the selected authors offer valuable self-reflective case studies of this potential. Within its framework, my dissertation provides a comprehensive study that draws links between the latest research in cognition and literature studies. By analyzing the epistemological and phenomenological potential of creative metaphor in Romantic poetry and aesthetics, I challenge the reductionist view of metaphor as a stylistic secondary feature from a literary-historical perspective and I show that metaphor is not only a crucial cognitive process, as cognitive studies sees it primarily today, but also a tool in the search for the numinous, for positive social change, and for lost organic harmony.




Allert, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Comparative literature|German literature|British and Irish literature

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