Versform & ikonicitet: Med exempel från svensk modernistisk lyrik

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


This thesis revisits and explores the relationship between verse and meaning by means of the notion of iconicity, i.e., as signs primarily based on similarity. The aim of the thesis is to show how verse and its interaction with words and sentences create meaning and can be an integrated part in the interpretation or understanding of the poem as a whole. Verse is discussed in relation to four other literary fields or areas of research. These, in connection with verse and iconicity, are the focus of the main chapters, all concluded with three extensive close readings. The poems have been chosen from the last century of Swedish modernist poetry and represent a spectrum from non-metered, free, and mainly visual verse to the more traditional, metered, and mainly auditive verse. Among the poets represented are Edith Södergran, Gunnar Ekelöf and Tomas Tranströmer.


The semiotics of Charles Sanders Peirce and adaptations of Peirce offer the theoretical framework and essential analytical tools. A starting point is Peirce’s notion of the sign as consisting of three interrelated parts and of the three types of signs: the icon, index, and symbol. Chapter 2, on iconicity and figural language, presents all possible types of iconicity in verse, using the well-established formula X miming Y. Iconicity is discussed in relation to both the traditional, linguistically oriented understanding of metaphor and to a more recent cognitive approach. The latter also can include aspects of verse’s auditory or visual material form. In addition, verse is shown to be able to create meaning through interaction with words and sentences, meaning that by means of iconicity can stand for other meaning, like a metaphor. The conceptual distinction between mental meaning and material form also is related to Peirce’s grading of iconicity.


Chapter 3 turns to the case of intertextuality, when verse derives its meaning from its relation to other texts, poets, or traditions; but intertextuality in this narrow sense also is understood in the light of a general model of signification or semiosis. Even if the verse’s meaning at first is mainly symbolic, known from previous sign-production, the sign’s interpretant also takes into account the poem’s concrete auditory or visual form and contextual circumstances, and this involves iconicity.


Chapter 4, on the metalyric, investigates what happens when verse draws attention to itself and when the meaning of the words seem to reflect upon aspects of the verse. The function of this heightened degree of iconicity may be to indicate the tripartite sign and to show us how representation works. Chapter 5 turns to emotionality and the understanding of emotion as involving a bodily change or reaction. We can perceive, however, that an emotion is being represented without experiencing this bodily reaction ourselves. Verse’s emphasized materiality may stand iconically for the body or be read or performed in ways that lend it to representing bodily movement. Furthermore, verse can be involved in structures that take more or less mental energy to process, which in turn may be connected to the energy levels of emotional states.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Humanities


Original languageSwedish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
  • Elleström, Lars, Supervisor, External person
  • Karin Nykvist, Supervisor
Award date2016 Sep 30
Place of PublicationLund
  • Språk- och litteraturcentrum, Lunds universitet
Print ISBNs978-91-87833-95-3
Electronic ISBNs978-91-87833-96-0
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Sep 2
Publication categoryResearch

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