What Is Happiness?

A Study of Metaphoric Conceptualizations of Happiness in Poetry


  • Jessica Pollard University of Northwestern - St. Paul Eagle Scholars Honors Program


conceptual metaphor, poetry, conceptual metaphor theory, happiness metaphor


To better understand how conceptual metaphors are used in language, this study analyzes sixteen poems published from 1916–1995 and written by sixteen different American poets. Each poem contained the word happiness and at least one conceptual metaphor pertaining to happiness to see how poets of twentieth-century poetry used cultural conceptualizations of happiness in their poetic expression. Once the 107 conceptual metaphors of happiness were identified, each was classified by twenty-two different source domains according to lists of metaphorical sources domains found in Kövecses (2003) and Kövecses (2008). After this analysis it was found that twentieth-century poets used conceptual metaphors of happiness in both conventional and novel ways. Poets apply conventional metaphors in novel ways to creates new approaches of thinking about a target domain, even though these innovative approaches are not often incorporated into our society’s conventional conceptualizations. Therefore, for people to read poetry how it was intended, a conceptual definition of a metaphor should be introduced into schools, colleges, and the general public because the traditional definition of metaphor as a comparison does not account for the ways that metaphor helps us structure our thoughts and language. By better understanding conventional metaphor, people would have a better understanding and appreciation of poetry.