Thoughts on sound and vision

Rupi Kaur is a writer and artist who creates beautiful poetry and images. Her work engages with love, loss, trauma and healing based on the experiences she gathers through her life.

he will taste 

like the poetry

i wish i could write

Rupi Kaur 

I chose to mention Rupi Kaur because her poems blur the lines between written and spoken sound, and her reference to taste in the poem above makes me think of the crossing of sensory experiences for people with Synesthesia. She also writes without capitalisation or punctuation (apart from full-stops) to express her connection to her native Gurmukhi script of Punjabi. She says that this ties her to her own history and heritage within her work.

I love the way that when I read this poem I hear it in my head. I want to say it out loud to see how the words sound from my mouth. I want to translate what I see into a sound. When I translate sight to sound I feel like it gives me a different experience of the poem.

Ingold draws on the different relationships we have with vision and sound that I noticed when reading Rupi Kaur’s poem. He states that sound is thought to reach, “directly into the soul, whereas in vision all one can do is reconstruct a picture of what the outside world might be like”. His argument is that sound and vision are opposed because sound is involving whereas vision is just observation. Ingold considers vision to be rational, detached, analytical and anomistic, whilst hearing is intuitive, engaged, synthetic and holistic. He states that vision leads us to objectify our environment and to treat it as separate to ourselves, whereas sound makes us more empathetic to our environment; we feel more apart of it because we are given more of a sense of belonging by our reciprocal interaction with it.

To a certain extent I agree with Ingold’s argument because sound and vision have a definite quality that is different even though they may reveal the same things in the world. For example I may both see and hear a cat, and both these perceptions tell me that it exists. I agree that this difference probably stems from the fact that the action of making a noise ties us directly to sound because we can actively reciprocate with sound. Vision does make me consider the world to be “out there” and separate from my body because I cannot interact with vision. However, regardless of the differences between these sensory experiences, they both make up our embodied experience.

So Rupi kaur’s poem feels different emotionally when I see it to when I say it. When I make the action of opening my mouth to allow my vocal chords to vibrate and make sound I am interacting with the poem in a much more personal way than when I simply look at the words on the page. I am not saying that sight is inferior to sound in any way- it is just different, and whether I use sight or sound has a huge effect on how connected I feel to the world around me. Writing after all is the modelling of speech in a visible medium (Ingold), so to properly appreciate the poem, it needs to be said aloud.

Here is another Rupi Kaur poem:

our backs

tell stories 

no books have

the spine

to carry

-women of colour Rupi Kaur

Although vision may not be interacted with in the same way as sound, some would consider that producing visual media a form of interaction with the world. Cezanne wanted to make visible the idea of how the world touches us and he represented this though something that could only be appreciated by sight; paintings.


This interaction with the visual side of the world is very personal and it communicates emotion in a different way to the way sound does. Cezanne shows how our vision can lead to an affective experience of something like a painting, an in this way, the world “out there” seems more connected to the embodied experience.

To be honest,  I would probably feel more connected to this image if I could hear it. Looking at this picture makes me imagine the sound of the wind in the trees or the feeling of heat on my skin. So vision in a way, leads to the imagination of other sensory experiences. This shows that even just looking at a still life painting gives me the ability to have a type of interaction with it, even if it is based only on imagined sensory experiences. Cezanne’s intention to show how the world ‘touches’ us comes across in the embodied experience this image gives me.

In conclusion, sound and vision are usually thought of as similar senses, but if we analyse how they each contribute to our embodied experience, we understand that they are in fact quite different.


Here is Rupi Kaur’s website:

Ingold, T. (2011). The perception of the environment. 1st ed. London: Routledge.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (2007 [1945]). Cézanne’s Doubt. In L. Lawlor, T. Toadvine (eds) The Merleau-Ponty Reader. Northwestern University Press, 69–84.


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