Page last updated at 14:41 GMT, Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Aberystwyth University in poetry 'fevered brow' test

By Carl Yapp
BBC News

A thermal image of volunteer Alan Woodland
A thermal image of love poetry cynic Alan Woodland

I'm a bit of a sceptic when it comes to love poetry. To be honest, I think some of it is a load of old nonsense.

But when researchers at Aberystwyth University set up a series of experiments to find out if the words of love made people blush, I was intrigued.

I'm not an insensitive man, but few things raise my temperature - the flu and a 40-minute game of squash are among the things that do.

But for romantic poet John Keats, love poems caused "a burning forehead" and "a parched tongue".

For Andrew Marvell they created "instant fires" in every pore.

But can reading poetry really raise body temperature?

With Valentine's Day approaching, university researchers are using state-of-the-art thermal imaging cameras to record the faces of volunteers reading love poems.

Poetry volunteer Alan Woodland and his thermal image
I tend to be a bit cynical about these things
Experiment volunteer Alan Woodland

Poet Dr Richard Marggraf Turley from the department of English and creative writing said: "Is there an empirical basis for the old adage that love poetry can cause a burning forehead and a parched tongue? That's what we want to find out.

"In the run up to Valentine's Day we have the perfect opportunity to ask the question about love and the expression of it.

"Does just reading love poetry leave distinctive patterns of heat on the face? We're calling them thermal signatures."

But how can researchers tell if someone is genuinely moved by a love poem or simply embarrassed?

"There are a range of emotions caused by love," added Dr Marggraf Turley.

"Embarrassment is part of the experience of love, but we will be holding controlled tests and we'll invite students to become involved with the poetry.

"We want to find out if the inspiration behind poetry can be replicated when it's read out."

Initial results from the tests are expected within a few days - in time for 14 February - but the majority will not be available for a week.

Computer science student Alan Woodland took part in the experiment on Tuesday.

'Serious side'

"I can count on one hand the number of poems I have read since my GCSE English exam," he said.

"I tend to be a bit cynical about these things. I understand the principle behind the experiment and I'll be interested to see the results."

Six volunteers from the department of English and creative writing are reading Bright Star by John Keats and To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell.

The same poems were then be read by six volunteers from computer science.

"There is a serious side to these experiments. We hope to prove that there's not only a cerebral dimension to reading love poetry but that it can also produce measurable physical effects," said Dr Marggraf Turley.

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