About this project

The aim of our project is to analyse violations of the principle of interpretability in lyrical texts, as well as to understand the mechanisms that lead to a reinterpretation of seemingly difficult or uninterpretable texts.

Our project combines literary and linguistic (mainly semantic) expertise. A poem is not only a work of art but also always made of language – and thus it should be (and is indeed) analysable with the methods of linguistic theory.


We focus mainly on the poetry of Emily Dickinson and the metaphysical poets. We have chosen these authors in particular, because their poetry contains a multitude of interpretive problems, without, however, being meaningless or nonsensical. At the same time these authors show a great command of and sensibility for the use of language, so that we can assume their failures to observe linguistic principles to be intentional and meaningful.



We develop a catalogue of methods for a general approach to lyrical texts with interpretive difficulties. Interpretive problems we encounter are, for example, ambiguity, missing referents, semantic mismatches or unacceptable syntactic structures.

Literary scholarship provides contextual knowledge about, for example, word meaning, metaphors, lyrical structure, intertextual references, the relation to other poems by the same author, biographical or historical information.

Semantic scholarship provides concise mechanisms of analysis and adaptation on a local level. It precisely states problems and shows how apparently uninterpretable data can be reinterpreted.



It is not our aim to provide ‘the’ definite and complete interpretation of poems; rather, we try to present a method of analysis which can disclose and justify interpretations and show the way to more plausibility. This includes, for example, showing cases of unresolved ambiguity and not deciding in favour of one interpretation if it is not more plausible than the other.

We hope that our work will prove profitable for both disciplines. Literary criticism profits from close interpretations substantiated by local semantic analysis, which serve to validate broader interpretations made on the basis of contextual information. Semantics profits from an expansion of interpretational strategies through the challenge of analysing complex lyrical texts not normally dealt with in linguistics studies (but interpretable nonetheless).