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2016121920161221 (R4)

Poet Imtiaz Dharker explores the history, cultural significance and psychology of sighing.

Award-winning poet Imtiaz Dharker explores the history, cultural significance, physiology and psychology of sighing. She considers its role in literature, music, religion and life.

The sigh of a lover in ecstasy or despair. The ghostly sigh of an invisible being in a ghost story. The sigh of relief, or in the face of extreme beauty. "The sigh of midnight trains in empty stations". Of wind blowing softly through trees or rushes. Charlie Brown's cartoon sigh. Christ healing a deaf man - "He looked up to heaven, sighed, and said unto him, Ephphatha. That is, be opened."

From John Clare, Keats and Imtiaz's own work, via Shakespeare to Elgar, Dido's Lament and As Time Goes By, the sigh appears across the world in poetry, fiction, art and music.

"You must remember this, a kiss is still a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh..."

In earlier centuries, sighing was seen as a way of maintaining bodily and mental health. According to the science of the humours, it expelled melancholy from the body. Too much sighing, however, could leave the person "lean and pale and with a withered heart".

It was also an accepted method of prayer, in some ways a better way of communicating with the divine. On the other hand, of course, Karl Marx defined religion as "the sigh of the oppressed creature".

Psychologists in Oslo discovered that there is a big difference between a person's emotion when sighing - often through frustration, irritation, boredom or disappointment - and other people's perceptions of that emotion as, often, generated by sadness. What, then, are the positive perceptions of a sigh? Does it help us mentally, emotionally, or just physiologically?

When does our presenter, Imtiaz Dharker, normally sigh? And what about the contributors - social and cultural historian Hannah Newton of the University of Reading, English Literature scholar Naya Tsentourou (who's an expert on sighing and groaning in religious texts), classical pianist Peter Hill, and cognitive neuro-scientist Lynne Barker from Sheffield Hallam University?

Rivers may sigh, but do animals? Do birds? What is the difference between a sigh and a yawn? At what age do we start to sigh - and why?

A Pennine Production for BBC Radio 4.

2016121920161221 (R4)

Poet Imtiaz Dharker explores the history, cultural significance and psychology of sighing.

Award-winning poet Imtiaz Dharker explores the history, cultural significance, physiology and psychology of sighing. She considers its role in literature, music, religion and life.

The sigh of a lover in ecstasy or despair. The ghostly sigh of an invisible being in a ghost story. The sigh of relief, or in the face of extreme beauty. "The sigh of midnight trains in empty stations". Of wind blowing softly through trees or rushes. Charlie Brown's cartoon sigh. Christ healing a deaf man - "He looked up to heaven, sighed, and said unto him, Ephphatha. That is, be opened."

From John Clare, Keats and Imtiaz's own work, via Shakespeare to Elgar, Dido's Lament and As Time Goes By, the sigh appears across the world in poetry, fiction, art and music.

"You must remember this, a kiss is still a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh..."

In earlier centuries, sighing was seen as a way of maintaining bodily and mental health. According to the science of the humours, it expelled melancholy from the body. Too much sighing, however, could leave the person "lean and pale and with a withered heart".

It was also an accepted method of prayer, in some ways a better way of communicating with the divine. On the other hand, of course, Karl Marx defined religion as "the sigh of the oppressed creature".

Psychologists in Oslo discovered that there is a big difference between a person's emotion when sighing - often through frustration, irritation, boredom or disappointment - and other people's perceptions of that emotion as, often, generated by sadness. What, then, are the positive perceptions of a sigh? Does it help us mentally, emotionally, or just physiologically?

When does our presenter, Imtiaz Dharker, normally sigh? And what about the contributors - social and cultural historian Hannah Newton of the University of Reading, English Literature scholar Naya Tsentourou (who's an expert on sighing and groaning in religious texts), classical pianist Peter Hill, and cognitive neuro-scientist Lynne Barker from Sheffield Hallam University?

Rivers may sigh, but do animals? Do birds? What is the difference between a sigh and a yawn? At what age do we start to sigh - and why?

A Pennine Production for BBC Radio 4.