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ISSN 2227-6017 (ONLINE), ISSN 2303-9868 (PRINT), DOI: 10.18454/IRJ.2227-6017
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Safyanova I.V., "LINGUISTIC REALIZATION OF THE CONCEPT SOUL IN POETIC DISCOURSE". Meždunarodnyj naučno-issledovatel’skij žurnal (International Research Journal) № 1 (79) Part 2, (2019): 105. Tue. 26. Mar. 2019.
Safyanova I. V. LINGUISTIC REALIZATION OF THE CONCEPT SOUL IN POETIC DISCOURSE / I. V. Safyanova // Mezhdunarodnyj nauchno-issledovatel'skij zhurnal. — 2019. — № 1 (79) Part 2. — С. 105—108. doi: 10.23670/IRJ.2019.79.1.050




Научная статья

Сафьянова И.В. *

ORCID: 0000-0002-7036-8113,

Санкт-Петербургский государственный университет, Санкт-Петербург, Россия

* Корреспондирующий автор (irina.safyanova[at]


В статье проводится лингво-когнитивный анализ содержательных характеристик концепта soul, который входит в концептосферу внутреннего мира человека. Проводится анализ структуры концепта, выявляются основные метафорические модели и образные средства репрезентации концепта в поэтическом дискурсе. Рассматривается соотношение лингвокультурного и индивидуально-авторского концептов в произведениях английских поэтов, когда субъективно значимыми становятся разные смысловые компоненты, которые варьируются и дополняются новыми характеристиками.

Ключевые слова: когнитивная поэтика, концепт soul, когнитивная метафора, лингвокультурный концепт, индивидуально-авторский концепт.


Research article

Safyanova I.V. *

ORCID: 0000-0002-7036-8113,

Saint-Petersburg State University, Saint-Petersburg, Russia

* Corresponding author (irina.safyanova[at]


The article provides cognitive-linguistic analysis of verbal manifestation of the concept SOUL in poetic discourse, defines distinctive characteristics of the concept and reveals fundamental metaphorical models. The concept belongs to the conceptual sphere of the interior world of a person. Special attention is paid to transformation of conventional  metaphorical concepts into individual artistic ones in the works of English poets, when some components of the structure become more prominent and gain additional characteristics.

Keywords: cognitive poetics, the concept soul, conceptual metaphor, cognitive metaphor theory, conventional and artistic metaphorical concepts.

The emergence of cognitive poetics is closely connected with advances in cognitive linguistics.  Extensive research in cognitive linguistics has shown that conceptualization of the inner world of a person largely depends on conceptual metaphors. This has been studied both in terms of structure of the key concepts  in one particular language and also comparative analysis of cultural concepts existing in different languages.

According to the definition given by Yu. Stepanov, the concept can be described  as a “clot” of culture in the human mind. The cultural concept is viewed as a basic unit of culture in the mental world of  a  person, a “bunch” of ideas, notions, knowledge, on the one hand, and also etymology and the history of the concept, as well as contemporary associations,  values and attitudes, which accompany the word. The structure of the concept consists of three layers: the main layer, additional or passive layer and the inner form [6, P. 43].

The concept is often defined as a mental formation, a “cultural-mental-language unit”, as a “collective memory bank” of the cultural cognition of a group. The concept is also understood as a discrete “unit of the collective consciousness, which is stored in the national memory” of the speakers in the verbal form. Unlike notions, concepts are not only conceived, they are experienced.

Most cognitive stylisticians hold the view that the meaning does not primarily “reside in the linguistic manifestations on the page, but in the conceptual or mental representations of some earlier relevant experience evoked in the mind of the reader” [11, P. 85].

The role of culture in shaping the conceptual level of language and the influence of culture  on all levels of language was explored in   the publications of such authors as A. Wierzbicka (1989, 1992 ), G. Lakoff (1980, 1993,1999), Kövecses (2000, 2010), as well as Russian linguists  Arutiunova (1976, 1988, 1990), Apresyan (1995);  Yakovleva (1994); Bulygina & Shmelev (1997); Stepanova (2006), Kolesnikova (2011).

Cultural concepts exist not only at the collective or macro level of cultural cognition (including those related to theological, philosophical, social, scientific, artistic, etc. aspects) but also at the individual or micro level. That is why it is important to distinguish  invariant or prototypal concepts of a particular society or culture and individual or artistic concepts defined by O. Bespalova as a unit of consciousness of a poet or writer which is represented in a work of art and expresses the author’s reflection of objects or phenomena [3, P. 6].

Language appears to be the basic medium through which new conceptual metaphors are created and old ones are redefined. It is literature that provides greatest possibilities to create new conceptual metaphors and mappings creating new understandings and even new realities and text worlds. The language of poetry obviously differs from ordinary discourse. Many of the features distinguishing poetry from ordinary discourse come from certain literary conventions and a variety of linguistic particularities.

The aim of the paper is to study linguistic realization of the concept ‘soul’, which belongs to basic/fundamental concepts in almost all cultures, in poetic discourse and provide illustrative examples from English poetry analyzed from the perspective of cognitive poetics.

In the insightful work “Semantics, Culture and Cognition” A.Wierzbicka provides an extensive analysis of the concept SOUL/ DUSHA in Anglo-Saxon and Russian culture. Pointing out high frequency of usage and a wide range of contexts in which the concept is acceptable in Russian, the researcher comes to conclusion that the concept is “highly language-specific” and is essential to the understanding of Russian culture and Russian national character, whereas “Anglo-Saxon culture does not encourage much talk about ‘souls’”, which she ascribes to the impact of Descartes emphasis on conscious thinking [5, C. 15].

Despite impressive empirical results of the search for culture-specific key-words, this ethnolinguistic approach has faced considerable criticism as, according to V. Apresyan, “it is not entirely clear to what extent language can serve as an objective mirror of culture – in other words, to what extent it is possible to draw inferences about a culture or national mentality based on linguistic facts”[1, P. 18].

Other researchers, for example  O.L. Bessonova and S.V. Storozhenko, lay emphasis on diachronic dimension of the formation of the concept ‘soul’ and its place in the English conceptual sphere [4].

Though comparative analysis of the functioning of the concept soul in poetic works of different epochs could be of interest, the scope of the article does not allow to dwell on  the history of the conceptual metaphors associated with the word ‘soul’ as it is focusing mainly on relationship between conventional and individual concepts in  English poetry.

This paper is largely based on the cognitive-linguistic approach, drawing on findings of conceptual metaphor theory (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980, 1999;   Kövecses, 2000, 2010). Conceptual metaphors are defined as cognitive structures that allow us to conceptualize and understand one conceptual domain in terms of another. The structure of metaphors is described in terms of two key concepts. The first component is called the topic (or the tenor) and is closely associated with the target domain. The second component is called the vehicle and corresponds to the source domain.

Another approach which serves to analyze and identify the metaphorical creativity of soul is componential semantics, which makes it possible to juxtapose two conceptual meanings. This would, consequently, help much in finding out the semantic fields of topics and vehicles identifying the underlying conceptual content of their domains.

Comprehensive contextually based analysis is essential because a poem works as a whole and poetic effects and emotive impact are produced by a combination of features from different linguistic levels.

Etymologically, the word ‘soul’ originated from Old English ‘sawol’  related to common Germanic root (e.g. Gothic ‘saiwala’), which represents archaic beliefs and denotes “the spiritual part of man as believed to survive death and to be subject to happiness or misery in a life to come” [10].

The idea of ‘soul’ being closely connected with the Creator can be found not only in religious but also poetic discourse. John Donne, the eminent metaphysical poet and Dean of St.Paul”s Cathidral, author of both “Holy Sonnets” and secular love poems, often turned to religious topics, directly addressing his soul:

Up, up my drowsie Soul,where thy new eare

Shall in the Angels songs no discord heare;

Where thou shall see the blessed Mother-maid… (John Donne)

Soul’ is opposed to ‘body’, this dichotomy being an essential part of the basic doctrine of christianity. The yearning to go upwards, reinforced by inversion and repetition of the preposition at the beginning of the stanza, is part of the opposition  heaven/earth, paradise/hell. Contextual analysis reveals other lexical items pertaining to the same semantic field: saints, seraphs, angels, christ. the opposition is sustained through the use of attributes: immortal, virtuous, blessed, pure, good, chastе, contrasting with earthly, tortured, sinful, etc. religious motifs typical of john donne, romantic poets as well as mystic and transcendental poetry, became less common later as religion seems to have little meaning for many people nowadays.

Reference to ‘soul’ conceived as central to the spiritual life of man, putting focus primarily on moral aspects of a person’s existence is conceptualized in the language and is reflected in poetry with reference to the moral core of a person:

And I am black, but O! my soul is white ( W. Blake).

The lexeme ‘soul’ often refers to the inner life of a person, his or her essence. For example, R. Browning in his poem “Fra Lippo Lippi” defines the goal of the painter as the task to reveal the essence of man,  that is his soul:

Your business is to paint the souls of men.

Similar meaning – being an essential element or part of something, the embodiment of some quality [10] – can be traced in metaphors describing inanimate objects as in Shakespeare’s famous line “Brevity is the soul of wit”.

In contemporary English. according to most dictionaries, the primary meaning of ‘soul’ is “the principle of life, feeling, thought and action in man, regarded as distinct entity separate from the body” [10] or “the non-physical part of that person, where the person’s true nature and deepest thoughts and feelings are believed to be [8]. It has to be acknowledged that in this respect it is analogous to

‘heart’ both in poetic and everyday discourse. Although  linguistic evidence proves that ‘heart’ by far is more frequently used in the meaning ‘ the seat of emotions’, in traditional English poetry ‘soul’ is often referred to as the place where deepest and strongest feelings and emotions are:

No coward soul is mine,

No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere. (Emily Bronte)

Based on the conventional model pars pro toto, metonymical usage of the word ‘soul’ can denote any person or people. Thus in the sonnet written by W. Wordsworth the poet addresses Milton comparing him to a lonely star:

Thy soul was like a star and dwelt apart

Traditional dichotomy ‘soul’/’body’, opposition of the spiritual and ideal to the material is characteristic not only of religious and naïve picture of the world, but especially of Romantic poetry:

We are laid asleep

In body, and become a living soul…

We see into the life of things (W. Wordsworth)

In contemporary poetry, however, such distinct opposition of body and soul gives way to the understanding of the existence of bond between them. W.H. Auden, one of the leading British poets of the 20th century, in his poem “Lullaly” claims: Soul and body have no bounds.

Another important opposition is that of’ soul’ and ‘mind’. In the opinion of

A. Wierzbicka, conceptual dualism of ‘body’ and ‘mind’ is a characteristic feature of Anglo-Saxon culture. Opposition soul/mind as realization of the opposition rational/irrational can be traced in poetry, especially as part of Romantic tradition. W. Wordsworth claims superiority of imagination and inspiration as ‘soul’ can gain insight into matters that are beyond the rational:

‘Tis a thing impossible, to frame

Conceptions equal to the soul’ desires,

And the most difficult of tasks to keep

Hights which the soul is competent to gain (W. Wordsworth).

To find out the semantic structure of the concept one should pay special attention to attributes it is closely associated with. Following the principles of analysis of  metaphorical conceptions of the inner life of a person as suggested by Lakoff and Johnson [9], it is possible to describe some of the common conceptual metaphors associated with ‘soul’ which are typical of poetic discourse.

The anthropomorphic metaphor SOUL IS A LIVING BEING which represents ‘soul’ as capable of perceiving, feeling and thinking appears to be the most frequent one:

And now good morrow to our waking souls (J. Donnе)

Soul clap its hands and begin to sing (W. B. Yeats)

Personification is one of the key features of creative use of language. Contextual analysis allows to identify attributes of the concept ‘soul’, both those belonging to classical literary tradition: living, dead, free, brave, and unconventional ones such as unconquerable, stormy, bitter, the tumult оf the soul, etc.

Conceptualizing SOUL as an OBJECT is very common and very general. This is an ontological metaphor by its cognitive function. In poetic diction ‘soul’ is also often seen as a physical object and presented by means of the metaphor SOUL IS A CONTAINER:

And that’s enough for fifty hopes and fears…

To wrap and knock and enter our soul (R. Browning).

There are other linguistic metaphors where ‘soul’ is conceptualized as objects of different kinds: a valuable object, a brittle object, a hot, cold or burning object, etc. These metaphors activate the underlying cross-domain mapping typical of the linguistic picture of the world. The conceptual metaphor SOUL IS A VALUABLE OBJECT on linguistic level can be realized/verbalized in terms of loss, theft or purchase: They have stolen my soul away (W.Turner).

In poetic discourse linguistic presentations of well-worn conceptual metaphors can be by far less conventional than in everyday discourse.  Although traditionally ‘soul’ can be presented in terms of ‘a spark of life’ or ‘a breath of God’, manifestations in poetry may be versatile and require interpretation:

My soul that flashed from out the deep…(J. Davidson)

That puff of vapour from his mouth, man’s soul (R. Browning).

The poets tend to defamiliarize what is familiar, to render some relevant experience avoiding stereotypical ways of expression. For instance, ‘bird’ is traditionally associated with things that are spiritual and immaterial.  When W.B. Yeats compares a lonely person to a swan the traditional cultural concept acquires additional meaning due to the sheer verbal artistry:

Some minstrel compared the solitary soul to a swan…(W.B. Yeats)

 Literature and poetry especially have always proved a valuable source of information about the language. Poets often break up the conventional and stereotypical bonds of the everyday life conceptual system to create a new metaphorical mapping that suits their artistic goals. For example, in the short poem by Emily Dickinson “There is no frigate like a book” the image of soul synthetically implies the conventional conceptual metaphor SOUL IS A CONTAINER (of emotions, thoughts and fantasies) as well as SOUL IS A BEING who is able to travel freely, breaking the bounds of everyday existence:

How frugal is the chariot

That bears a human soul!

The strong final position of the noun soul in the poem seems to reinforce the status of the metaphorical concept, which is likely to stand for the world of poetry and fantasy, brittle as it may be.

Application of cognitive linguistics findings has enabled fruitful investigation of the cultural grounding of linguistic representation of concepts related to the inner life of man. In portraying the complexity of human psyche the author often presents it by means of metaphor where it is conceptualized as mental representation of some earlier relevant experience stored in the mind. Comprehensive cognitive-stylistic analysis is crucial for discovering multiple layers of meaning as many poetic effects are produced by a combination of features on different linguistic levels.

Of particular interest is analysis of transformation of prototypal cultural concepts into genuine artistic ones. In poetry linguistic expressions containing the word ‘soul’ often reflect not one conceptual metaphor, but a number of conceptual metaphors, which results in creation of vivid original metaphors. Exploration of individual artistic concepts allows to study not only the core of the concept (“main layer” according to Yu. Stepanov), but also the “additional layer” as well as associations evoked by the inner form and define its evaluative and emotive capacity.

Конфликт интересов

Не указан.

Conflict of Interest

None declared.

Список литературы / References

  1. Апресян В.Ю. Русские и английские эмоциональные концепты [Электронный ресурс] / В. Ю. Апресян // Компьютерная лингвистика и интеллектуальные технологии: По материалам ежегодной Международной конференции «Диалог» (Бекасово, 4–8 июня 2008 г.). Вып. 7 (14). – М.: Изд-во РГГУ, 2008. – С. 17-22 –  URL: (дата обращения: 20.12.2018).
  2. Арутюнова Н.Д. Метафора и дискурс / Н. Д. Арутюнова // Теория метафоры. – М.: Прогресс, 1990 – С. 5-32.
  3. БеспаловаO. E. Концептосфера поэзии Н.С. Гумилева в ее лексическом представлении: автореф. дис. канд. филол. наук: 10.02.01 / О.Е. Беспалова. – СПб: РГПУ им. А.И. Герцена, 2002. – 24 с.
  4. БессоноваО. Л. Лингвокультурный концепт душа в англоязычной картине мира / О. Л. Бессонова, C. В. Сторженко // Лингвистика XXI века: сб. науч. ст.: к 65-летнему юбилею проф. В.А. Масловой / соред. В.В. Колесов, М.В. Пименова, В.И. Теркулов. – 2-е изд. – М.: ФЛИНТА, 2014. – C. 56-62.
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  7. Busse B. Language, Literature and Stylistics / B. Busse, D. McIntyre // McIntyre D., Busse B.(eds) Language and Style. – Palgrave MacMillan, 2010. – 3-12.
  8. Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary Collins London and Glasgow. 1999. – 1703 p.
  9. Lakoff G. Metaphors we live by / G. Lakoff, M. Johnson. – Chicago; London, 1980. – 242 p.
  10. New Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language. College Edition. –Delhi: Surjeet Publications, 1993. – 1824 p.
  11. Verdonk P. A Cognitive Stylistic Reading of Rhetorical Patterns in Ted Hughes’s “Hawk Roosting”: A Possible role for Stylistics in a Literary Critical Controversy/ P. Verdonk // McIntyre D., Busse B.(eds). Language and Style. – Palgrave MacMillan, 2010. – 84-94.

Список литературы на английском языке / References in English

  1. Apresyan V. YU. Russkie i anglijskie ehmocional’nye koncepty [Russian and English emotional concepts] [Electronic resource] / V. YU. Apresyan // Komp’yuternaya lingvistika i intellektual’nye tekhnologii: Po materialam ezhegodnoj Mezhdunarodnoj konferencii «Dialog» [Computer linguistics and intellectual technologies: Annual international conference “Dialog”] (Bekasovo, 4‑8 June 2008). Volume 7 (14). – M.: Izd-vo RGGU, 2008. – P. 17-22 – URL: (accessed: 20.12.2018). [in Russian]
  2. Arutyunova N. D. Metafora i diskurs [Metaphor and discourse] / N. D. Arutyunova // Teoriya metafory [Theory of metaphor]. – M.: Progress, 1990 – P. 5-32. [in Russian]
  3. Bespalova O. E. Konceptosfera poehzii N.S. Gumileva v ee leksicheskom predstavlenii: avtoref. dis. kand. filol. nauk: 10.02.01 [Conceptual sphere of N.S. Gumilev’s poetry] / O.E. Bespalova. – SPb: RGPU im. I. Gercena, 2002. – 24 p. [in Russian]
  4. Bessonova O. L. Lingvokul’turnyj koncept dusha v angloyazychnoj kartine mira [Lingvocultural concept soul in the English language picture of the world] / O. L. Bessonova, C. V. Storzhenko // Lingvistika XXI veka: sb. nauch. st.: k 65-letnemu yubileyu prof. V.A. Maslovoj [Liguistics of the XXI century: collection of articles to the 65th jubilee of Prof. V.A. Maslova] / co-edited by V.V. Kolesov, M.V. Pimenova, V.I. Terkulov. – 2-e edition. – M.: FLINTA, 2014. – P. 56-62. [in Russian]
  5. Vezhbickaya A. Yazyk. Kul’tura. Poznanie [Language. Culture. Cognition] / A. Vezhbickaya. – M.: Pvcskie slovari, 1996. – 416 p. [in Russian]
  6. Stepanov YU. S. Konstanty: Slovar’ russkoj kul’tury [Constants: Dictionary of Russian culture] / Y. S. Stepanov; 3rd – M.: Akademicheskij Proekt, 2004. – 991 p. [in Russian]
  7. Busse B. Language, Literature and Stylistics / B. Busse, D. McIntyre // McIntyre D., Busse B.(eds). Language and Style. – Palgrave MacMillan, 2010. – P. 3-12. [in English]
  8. Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary Collins London and Glasgow. 1999. – 1703 p. [in English]
  9. Lakoff G. Metaphors we live by / G. Lakoff, M. Johnson. – Chicago; London, 1980. – 242 p. [in English]
  10. New Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language. College Edition. –Delhi: Surjeet Publications, 1993. – 1824 p. [in English]
  11. Verdonk P. A Cognitive Stylistic Reading of Rhetorical Patterns in Ted Hughes’s “Hawk Roosting”: A Possible role for Stylistics in a Literary Critical Controversy/ P. Verdonk // McIntyre D., Busse B.(eds). Language and Style. – Palgrave MacMillan, 2010. – P. 84-94. [in English]

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