With a bonfire in his mouth: Metaphor, embodiment and the consummation of meaning in Dylan Thomas
All human meaning making occurs through embodied minds. In the words of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, “all thoughts and actions emanate from the body, every idea, intuitive or intellectual can be imaged and translated in terms of the body, its flesh, skin, blood, sinews, veins, glands, organs, cells, or senses” (Lycett 2003:82). “The body is our general medium for having a world” echoes French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty 12 years later (Merleau-Ponty 2002:169). Whatever Thomas’ legacy, Merleau-Ponty’s wisdom continues to oversee advances in cognitive science with numerous interdisciplinary applications—not least in the field of linguistics. Language exists to facilitate meaning. Meaning emerges from curiosity: a desire to know. To know is to interpret. To interpret is to uncover meaning through body-based analogy. “ Through my small, bonebound island I have learnt all I know, experienced all, and sensed all,” continues Thomas, “. . . as much as possible, therefore, I employ the scenery of the island to describe the earthquakes of the heart” (Lycett 2003:82). This paper observes a particular earthquake of the poet’s heart, his masterpiece in 12 stanzas, “Vision and Prayer”, to illustrate ways in which a sustained assault on the mind, imagination and emotions using multiple layers of freshly hewn, body-based metaphor enables a consummate experience of meaning—a shockwave of aesthetic knowledge—revelation of the Absolute Paradox, and progress in love. Insights are presented from cognitive linguistics, hermeneutics, semiotics and pragmatist phenomenology to argue along with Johnson (2007) that aesthetic qualities inevitably mark all modes of knowing. We may only conclude that successful poetry and other verbal arts constitute meridians, or mature exemplars, of linguistic meaning, available to all who engage their whole self in the epistemic activity of incarnate attention. In celebration of the poet’s 95 th birthday (October 27, 2009), the paper presentation will feature a dramatic oral interpretation of the full text of his iconic poem in two movements.
Jamin Pelkey is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics at the Canada Institute of Linguistics, Trinity Western University, and an instructor in the English Department at University of the Fraser Valley. He received his PhD in Linguistics from La Trobe University, Australia, in 2009. His research interests include Tibeto-Burman, historical linguistics, dialectology, dialectics, philosophy of language, metaphor, semantics, semiotics, phenomenology and the integration of linguistics and poetics.