This was the Seminar I gave while at University during the late 1990s.  It was the precursor for my Essay NARRATIVE POETRY so is identical in places.  However, there is an oratorial nuance that underlies this version.  I have left in the ‘Read from ….’ lines, as they show how there were several larger portions of text read from the relevant works.  The Medieval texts were read, fluently, by Professor Andrew Taylor to demonstrate the nature of these texts as the Medieval audience would have perceived them – via the sound of the words as well as the allegorical narrative content.

Before the written word, verse was the form in which oral tales were told.  And when the written form began to appear, its form was still that of verse – alliterative verse with patterns of syllabic and spatial stress, i.e. metre and caesura, within each line, and, in some cases, rhyming patterns.  Their content was mainly of two kinds – heroic tales of super-powerful men battling super-natural enemies (monsters, dragons) as in Beowulf (C 8-10th), and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (about 1400); and allegories where abstract human traits were personified in order to drive home a homily on religious behaviour as in the C14th works, Piers the Plowman, Pearl and Canterbury Tales.

Read from Piers the Plowman

With the advent of the novel in the mid-eighteenth century, the narrative function of verse was usurped, leaving it as a vehicle for the expression of ideas – love, hate, revenge, pity, ambition; of ideals – political, social, cultural; and of nature – land-and-sea-scapes, flora, fauna, artifacts, and humans. At this time poets were exploring ideas rather than expounding narratives, mixing story with contemplation.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (pp. 567-581) is not a short poem, but equates with a short story in length, and in content.  Chaucer by William Wadsworth Longfellow (pp. 679-680) presents a portrait of a poet that could be expanded into a short story.  The Listeners by Walter de la Mare (pp. 906-7) is a narrative belonging to the fiction fantasy/thriller genre and reminds me just a little of J B Priestley’s short story BenightedSnake by D H Lawrence (pp. 952-4) tells of a confrontation between man/culture and nature.  The Hunchback in the Park by Dylan Thomas (pp. 1178-9) makes a social comment, while Boy at the Window by Richard Wilbur (p. 1222) comments on cultural perspectives.  Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers and Living in Sin by Adrienne Rich (p. 1309) provide narrative cameos of modern life, with a wealth of information in a few words.

My task is to ascertain how these poems tell their narratives, and in what way they differ from short fiction, and to point out their similarities. The definition of narrative is a significant factor.  According to Abrams in A Glossary of Literary Terms,

a narrative is a story, whether in prose or verse, involving events, characters, and what the characters say and do…. Narratologists treat a narrative not in the traditional way, as a fictional representation of life, but as a systematic formal construction … the way that narrative discourse fashions a “story” … into the organized structure of a literary plot.(Abrams, 1993, pp. 123-4)

To facilitate the construction of the narrative, poets resort/resorted to the use of several devices, which we have already covered in the previous seminars – those of imagery, metaphor, simile, metonymy, alliteration, rhythm, metre and rhyme.  While the first five are used equally by prose-writers, the latter three are specific tools of poetry.

Another factor that differentiates between a narrative verse and a short story is the obvious one of length – that is, economy of language.  Yet most early narrative verses were much longer than many short stories.  However, later narrative verses, including the long ones, used economy of language, saying a great deal with few words, as compressed meditative poems do.  The Medieval Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Piers Plowman told complex narratives in formal structures, with interlaced flashbacks, symbolic and allegoric sub-plots.  Similarly, many modern short stories use flashbacks, symbolism and inter-textual references to expand the content of the narrative.  According to C S Lewis, “allegory is a mode of expression [which] belongs to the form of poetry, more than to its content … [s]ymbolism is a mode of thought …” (Lewis, 1958, p. 48)(my underlining)

In Medieval times, the function of the narrative was divided – as entertainment, and as the vehicle for spiritual or physical lessons in life.  This function underwent a change during the Renaissance, moving away from the heavily allegoric and epic towards the symbolic and metaphoric.  Lessons were still there to be learnt but they were not the prime motivation for the poem.  Narrative works became shorter and less frequent, as emotions and subjects involving the senses became more popular.  Yet throughout this time myth and its creatures were still used as vehicles for idealistic standards.

In Coleridge’s narrative poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the  mystic and symbolic abound.  Events were governed by omens and curses.  When the Mariner shot the Albatross, symbolic of good luck at sea, with his crossbow, he realised that he:

          … had done a hellish thing,
          And it would work ‘em woe:
          For all averred, I had killed the bird
          That made the breeze to blow.
          (Norton, 1983, p. 569, lines. 91-4)

During his tribulations at sea, including the death of his companions, and his own near-death, spiritual beings both good and evil manifested to assist the Mariner to learn the lesson that:

          He prayeth well, who loveth well
          Both man and bird and beast.
         He prayeth best, who loveth best
          All things both great and small;
          For the dear God who loveth us,
          He made and loveth all. (ibid,
          p. 581, lines 612-3,616-7)

Coleridge used patterns in his verse structure – the first and third lines were of iambic tetrameter, and the second and fourth lines rhymed – and most of the stanzas were quatrains, though there were a few six line stanzas.  The rhythms these patterns set up enhance the narration, especially if read aloud, or performed.

Longfellow’s Chaucer evokes a picture of the poet sitting surrounded by artworks that illustrate his penchance for nature.  The sonnet harks back to Chaucer’s own major work The Canterbury Tales – a  narrative verse of epic proportions in which the characters tell tales to pass the time on their journey of pilgimage; tales involving characters of all classes, and including tales of talking animals and birds.

Read from The Canterbury Tales

This tale of Chanticleer the rooster, who through cunning escapes the clutches of a fox, is a retelling of an Aesop fable.  Longfellow evinces from the reader of his poem all of this pre-existent narrative knowledge, by the lines:

                                            . . . and as I read
          I hear the crowing cock, I hear the note
             Of lark and linnet, and from every page
             Rise odors of plowed field or flowery mead.
         (ibid. p. 680)

Thus a poem can be a vehicle for past narratives, achieved by a touching reference of a few words.  If told in short story form, this character sketch would need expansion of these inter-textual references that can be alluded to in verse form.  Longfellow wrote the one stanza sonnet using ten syllables lines that were a mixture of Iambic and anapestic trimeter, and an orderly rhyming pattern – ABBA ABBA CDECDE – that facilitates ease of reading.

By the closing of the nineteenth century, much poetry had moved away from the narrative.  Walter de la Mare wrote poems about concepts, like Goodbye and Away, but also wrote a narrative verse called The Listeners which dealt with a Traveler’s experience at a “lone house” one moonlit night.  It tells of “phantom listeners” who

   Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
       To that voice from the world of men:
   Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
       That goes down to the empty hall,
   Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
        By the lonely Traveler’s call. (ibid, p. 906)

It doesn’t just describe an eerie moment though.  With the lines:

    “Tell them I came, and no one answered,
          That I kept my word,” he said. (ibid, p. 906)

the narrative expands, teasing the reader with the hint that there is more to the Traveler’s visit to the house than mere chance.  It is left to the reader to fill the gaps.  This is where poetry has the edge on prose – it can tell parts of a narrative, leave whole swathes of information out, yet leave the reader with the knowledge that a tale has been told, and one that fits a bigger picture.  Short story can do this too, although it is rarely done with the same degree of brevity.  According to Dylan Thomas, in his essay , ‘Walter de la Mare as a Prose Writer’, he describes de la Mare’s “elaborate language, [as] fuller than ever of artifice and allusion when it was seemingly simple”. (Thomas, 1983, pp. 110-111)  He believed de la Mare’s

[c]ountry terror was a little cosy, so that you felt not that
ething nasty had happened in the woodshed but that
there were quite hellish goings-on among the wool-
in the parlour. (ibid, p. 110)

Of the same era as de la Mare, D H Lawrence wrote poems about objects like Piano, and concepts like Elemental and Self-Protection.  With his poem Snake he wrote of nature as seen and experienced from a cultural position.  The narrative describes the coming of the snake to the poet’s water-trough, giving a physical description of the snake and its actions, followed by his reaction based on fear of snakes bred into him.  As a result of this fear, he killed the snake.

          And immediately I regretted it.
        I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
        I despised myself and the voices of my accursed
                 human education. (Norton, 1983, p. 953)

With a touch of intertextuality Lawrence refers to the albatross of Coleridge’s poem, and the connotations that accompany it.

          And I thought of the albatross
        And I wished he would come back, my snake.
       (ibid, p. 954)

Of significance in these two poems is a breaking away from the formal structure of verse.  Walter de la Mare’s poem was of mixed metrical patterns, with alternate lines rhyming, and no stanzas.  D H    Lawrence abandoned all formal patterns of line-length, stanza-length, and rhyme-grouping.  There were no rhymes, and the line lengths were often those of sentences.  In other words he wrote free verse.  The line between prose and poetry, for those who need their literature to be placed in neat little boxes clearly defined and labeled, was beginning to blur.

Of the twentieth century, Dylan Thomas specialised in the sounds of words and their interplay to form vivid and unusual images.  Of mixed metre in six line stanzas, with intermittent rhyming, his poem The Hunchback in the Park (Norton, 1983, pp 1178 – 1179) tells a sad social tale of a homeless man forced to sleep in a “dog kennel”. Much of the narrative is implied yet evocative by his turn of phrase – for example “the Sunday somber bell at dark” that tells of the bell rung to inform visitors that the park is closing implies the tolling of the church bell, carrying with it notions of religion, of Christian attitudes which should encompass the sheltering of all God’s creations, including the aged and poor. The narrative is also that of the park, Cwmdonkin Park in the industrial Welsh town in which Thomas grew up.

Read from The Hunchback in the Park

A favourite of mine, Richard Wilbur’s Boy at the Window tells of two points of view, two perspectives on life and what constitutes security and safety.  Yet it tells a tale – of a boy snug inside a warm house watching a snowman outside in a storm, and of the snowman watching the boy staring out of:

                    . . . the bright pane surrounded by
          Such warmth, such light, such love, and so much fear.
          (ibid, p. 1222)

Told with a degree of formality in two brief eight-line stanzas, iambic pentameter, an ABBA BCBC pattern of rhyming, and an economy of words, Wilbur’s narrative is nevertheless crammed with details. His referral to Adam and Paradise shows a leaning towards the earlier poetry, where religion and myth were used as signposts to further meaning, and to strict standards.  Yet the narrative is modern in its use of perspectives and the emotions, the senses it arouses.

Both of Adrienne Rich’s poems, Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers and Living in Sin tell stories – the former ballad in a structured way with rhyming couplets in four line stanzas of regular iambic pentameter stresses; the latter unstructured, with no rhymes, irregular metric lines and no stanzas.  In Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers her life is revealed not just by her tapestry, but also by:

The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band [that]
Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand. (ibid, p. 1309)

We learn by those two lines that her life has been controlled by her husband, has been restricted.  As she depicts the tigers, free “and unafraid” upon the screen, the reader shares a knowledge of the sense of her longing for freedom.

Living in Sin tells a tale of adultery, of an illicit affair with the milkman.  Rich used words like heresy, sepulchral, and demons to remind the reader of the religious immorality of the protagonist’s way of life.  With words like “beetles”, “dust”, “cigarettes” and “the coffee-pot boil[ing] over on the stove”, the notion of the sordid nature of the affair is underlined.  The final commentary leaves the reader in no doubt.

         [S]he woke sometimes to feel the daylight coming
          like a relentless milkman up the stairs. (ibid, p. 1309)

The futility, and the inevitability of the continuation of the affair is driven home.

In these postmodern days, verse has seen a return to its original narrative function although in a much less formal form – free verse, with its lack of structured metre, stanzas, and rhyme.  In The Monkey’s Mask, by Dorothy Porter, a modern fictional genre, that of murder mystery with a lesbian detective, is presented in verse form.

Read from The Monkey’s Mask

(C) Jud House  17/02/2013


Abrams, M H (1993)  A Glossary of Literary Terms 6th Edition.  Fort Worth:  Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

Allison, Barrows, Blake, Carr, Eastman, & English Jnr; + Stallworthy (essay) (1983)  The Norton Anthology of Poetry 3rd Edition.  New York:  W W Norton & Company. (REFERRED TO AS NORTON)

Lewis, C S (1936;1958)  The Allegory of Love – A Study of Medieval Tradition.  New York:  A Galaxy Book, Oxford University Press 1958.

Thomas, D (1983)  Quite Early One Morning – Poems, Stories, Essays.  London:  J M Dent & Sons Ltd.

Mentioned Narratives

Alexander, M (Trans. 1973)  Beowulf.  Harmondsworth:  Penguin Classics, Penguin Books Ltd.

Chaucer, G The Canterbury Tales  Trans. Coghill, Nevill (1970)  Middlesex:  Penguin Classics, Penguin Books Ltd.

Langland, W  (1377)  Piers the Plowman.  Edited by Skeat, Rev W W (1869)  Edition: (1958) Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Porter, D (1997)  The Monkey’s Mask.  South Melbourne: Hyland House Publishing Pty Ltd.

Tolkien, J R R (1995)  Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo.  London: Harper Collins Publishers.

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The voice of a literary text is linked with the persona and the tone created by the author.  Persona is defined as the first-person narrator, whether fictional or autobiographical; the tone is the same as tone of voice used in everyday speech.  Abrams describes tone as revealing

by subtle clues, our conception of, and attitude to, the things
we are talking about, our personal relation to our auditor, as
well as our assumptions about the[ir] social level,intelligence
and sensitivity …. [It] can be … critical or approving, formal or
intimate, outspoken or reticent, solemn or playful, arrogant or prayerful, angry or loving, serious or ironic,condescending
obsequious …. (Abrams, 1993, p. 156)

As tone of voice implies this is an integral part of voice, both in literature and speech.  The voice of a text gives the sense of the author behind it, the narrator within it, a sense of persona pervading the text.  There may be several voices within the same work – that of the protagonist, that of the narrator, and that of the author, layered or interwoven within the text.

In his book The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961), “Wayne C Booth’s project was to examine ‘the art of communicating with readers – the rhetorical resources available to … writer[s]”. (Selden, 1993, p. 20)  Booth established that the implied author was invented by the reader “by deduction from the attitudes articulated …. [in the text producing a] distinction between author the ‘authorial voice’”(ibid, p. 20)  But

his separating out of ‘reliable’ and ‘unreliable’ narrators
[voices] – the former, usually in the third person, coming
close to the values of the ‘implied author’; the latter, often
a character …, a deviant from them …. [thus] paradoxically
… promot[ing] the belief that authors do mean to ‘impose’
their values on the reader and that ‘reliability’ is a therefore
good thing (ibid, p. 20)

were to be Booth’s main legacy regarding rhetoric, that is the use of voice.  Referring to Booth’s use of the term implied author, Abrams writes that “the implied author, although related to the actual author, is nonetheless part of the total fiction … important [to] … the total effect of a work on the reader.” (Abrams, 1993, p. 157)  The critic, Walter J Ong saw this implied author as a false voice – the true voice being an “[e]xpression of the author’s genuine self or identity.” (ibid, p. 157)

Thus voice is that nuance of personal views and beliefs, moral, spiritual, political, and social, that permeate a text, whether poetry or prose, narrative or meditative, classical or exploratory.

There is another form of voice that should be considered, and has been by Dylan Thomas – that of the reader’s or performer’s actual voice.  Depending upon their point of view, they can project into a performance piece/ poem their own attitudes and feelings.  They may be passionate about the piece in question, or skeptical of its message, or enthusiastic about its author despite not quite understanding the meaning of the language used.  This overlays the voice of the author, and/or the narrator of the text.

In his radio talk/script ‘The English Festival of Spoken Poetry’, Dylan Thomas describes people who “cannot keep their liking [of poems] to themselves” (Thomas, 1983, p. 126) but feel compelled to share it with others – to “reel the lovely stuff off aloud.” (ibid, p. 126) Having described the various styles in which they then read the poems, he continues:

Known words grow wings; print sprints and shoots; the
voice discovers the poet’s ear; it’s found a poem on a
page is only half a poem…. they find that good poets are
better than they (the readers) thought they were…
(ibid, p. 26)

He admitted that there were obvious flaws encountered by listeners – those of sibilance, melodrama, over-inflection that “strangles rhythm and truncheons meaning[,] …. the ‘dead voice’ … of flat understatement” (ibid, p. 129), and multiple illustrative actions.

In ‘My Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning (Norton, 1983, p. 717), the Duke who describes his former wife to an emissary from the Count, whose daughter he wants to wed, is a fictional persona.  As the narrator he is totally separate from the author, who writes in the Duke’s voice, not his own.  And the character of the Duke, arrogant, assured of his right “[n]ever to stoop” (ibid, p. 718, line 43) to admonish his wife of her apparent lack of respect due his position, his “gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name” (ibid, p. 718, line 33), builds line by line through the condescending tone of his created voice.  But the voice does much more than that.  It manipulates the reader to share the reactions of the position of listener.  The reader is not just overhearing the conversation, the warning of the fate that awaits his new bride should she be unfaithful, but is a part-actor aligned with the emissary and his reactions.

In ‘When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer’ by Walt Whitman (ibid, p. 764) the distinct voice of the author can be heard.  There is no suggestion of a separate character, but a persona is created – that of someone tired of Science and its discoveries, its revelations of “proofs” and “figures”, “charts and diagrams” (ibid, p. 764, lines 2 & 3) that attempt to explain the universe in which the author lives.  The reader overhears and shares with the author the knowledge of man’s insignificance that is encapsulated in the lines:

           In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
          Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
(ibid, p. 764, lines 7 & 8)

In ‘This Is Just to Say’  by William Carlos Williams (ibid, p. 945) the author’s speaking voice is loud and clear.  Of course it could be the voice of the implied author, related to the actual author, part of the total fiction … important [to] … the total effect of the work on the reader.(Abrams, 1983, p. 157)  Overheard by the reader, the poem is a simple, personal message from one partner to the other, laid out in three four-line stanzas with an unexpected break in rhythm in lines 6 & 7.  The language of the third stanza is particularly evocative reinforcing the fact that the plums “were in / the icebox”. (ibid, p. 945, lines 3 & 4)

          Similarly, the poems ‘Unfortunate Coincidence’ and ‘Resume’ by Dorothy Parker (ibid, p. 1038) both bear direct messages from the author.  Whether this is the author’s false voice or true voice, the persona is clearly defined by the cynical tone.  In ‘Unfortunate Coincidence’, at first there is some doubt who the author is addressing – who is the ‘you’ of the poem, the reader?  When it is revealed that the “Lady” is being addressed, it is clear that she has romantic tendencies “shivering and sighing” (ibid, p. 1038, line 2), while her lover is passionate with “infinite, undying” (ibid, p.1038, line 4) emotions.  With their personalities revealed, it is apparent that there are three personae within the poem – the “Lady”, her lover, and the author.  The amusement at the expense of the protagonists is obvious in the tone of the author’s voice.

In ‘Resume’ the irony is heavy, the message one of the futility of attempting suicide and the necessity to accept the alternative – “[y]ou might as well live.” (ibid, p. 1038, line 8)  The poem’s matter-of-fact set of opinions highlight the persona of the author, implied or genuine – a no-nonsense realist.  Rather than the readers overhearing the opinions, the author’s use of the second person directly involves them, making them active recipients.  The poem’s voice manipulates the readers to participate with its content.  Considering that the poem was written in 1926, the voice is a surprisingly modern one, its message relevant in today’s world.

‘Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night’  by Dylan Thomas (ibid, p. 1181) was written by Thomas during the final illness of his father.  A plea to his father to resist death, the poem is deeply personal, baring the emotions of the author – the tone of voice one of anguish.  Yet the author attempts to reason with the recipient, his father, to give examples of how other men, wise, good, wild and grave, refuse to yield to death without a fight.  The sadness of death is evoked with the lines:

            And you, my father, there on the sad height,
          Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
          Do not go gentle into that good night.
          Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
          (ibid, p. 1182, lines 16-19)

The creation of a very private moment between father and son by the tone of voice leaves the reader in the position of eavesdropper.

‘Playboy’  by Richard Wilbur (ibid, p. 1225) contains three personae – the narrator, the subject/stock-boy, and the object/Playboy-girl.  Though narrated in third person omniscient, the characters are each given a persona – he that of a gawky pubescent male so engrossed by the Playboy girl that:

Sometimes, without a glance, he feeds himself.
The left hand, like a mother-bird in flight,
Brings him a sandwich for a sidelong bite,
And then returns it to a dusty shelf.
(ibid, p. 1225, lines 5-8)

She, the Playboy girl, is frozen in time in the photograph at the moment when she submits to the gaze of the onlooker, and “beyond control, / Consents to his inexorable will.” (ibid, p. 1226, lines 27-8) Throughout the poem runs the amused, knowing attitude of the narrator/author to his subject, given away by his choice of metaphors and similes.  Educated, observant, wry, he makes his descriptive language create the atmosphere of the stock-room, and of the photographic “pink-papered alcove” (ibid, p. 1225, line 10) with its “tasseled and vermilion cloth”. (ibid, p. 1226, line 18)  With his question: “What so engrosses him? (ibid, p. 1225, line 9) the author invites the reader to share the role of on-looker, and to share in the amusement caused by this act of voyeurism.

The poem, ‘To Aunt Rose’ by Allen Ginsberg (ibid, p. 1279) is a first person narration of the second person subject, his Aunt Rose.  The voice is that of an implied author who could be fictional having a part to play in the poem, or could be that of Ginsberg.  Either way he contributes by presenting his view of his aunt, and his understanding of what he knew of her:

– your long sad face
          your tears of sexual frustration
(ibid, p. 1279, lines 18-19)

representing his conjecture concerning her tears.  The persona of the author and that of his aunt are intertwined, though the voice is always that of the author/narrator, ambiguous as that sometimes is, with, for example, reference to his homosexuality: “knowing me a man already – / and I an ignorant girl of family silence …” (ibid, p. 1280, lines 27-28).  The tone is nostalgic, expressing views on the waste and value of life, and on intimacies between family members to be remembered retrospectively.  Various characters are evoked in a few words: “a stranger with a cloth arm / in his pocket / and a huge young bald head” (ibid, p. 1279, lines 14-16) and “my father, the Poet, on his visit to Newark … [whose] book / had been accepted by Liveright”. (ibid, p. 1280, lines 38 & 41-2)  The voice positions the readers outside the poem, as onlookers overhearing personal reminiscence.

‘Hanging Fire’ by Audre Lorde (ibid, p. 1364) is another first person narration of either an implied author or the real author when younger.  The voice is anxious, insecure, complaining, and jealous –

and momma’s in the bedroom
with the door closed
(ibid, p. 1364, lines 10-11, 22-23, 34-35)

– that of a teenage boy with his hormone-induced traumas.  There is no confusion as to the origin of the voice, or the topic of the poem.  There is only one voice – the views and attitudes are those of the adolescent complaining and questioning the ether, or anyone who will listen – in this case the reader.

T S Eliot’s poem ‘The Waste Land’ (ibid, p. 1000) is the ultimate in voice poems.  Because of its multiple voices it readily transformed into a radio play, and takes on life when read aloud.  The first person narrator is ambiguous throughout – is it the voice of the author or of an implied author, an invention within the fictions set out?  And the second person addressee – is it the reader or one of the characters?  Each voice gives a cameo of each persona, all intermingling, overlapping like a collage to create a complete work that carries multiple layers of meaning.

Alluding to various works mythical, classical and modern, Eliot provides his characters with inter-textual depth, juxtaposing them with superficial personal moments.  An example of this borrowing is his allusion to Shakespeare’s The Tempest with the lines: “I remember / Those are pearls that were his eyes” (ibid, p. 1004, lines 124-5), referred to as “that Shakespeherian Rag -“ (ibid, p. 1004, line 128), placed beside a reference to “a game of chess” (ibid, p. 1004, line 137) from Middleton’s Women Beware Women, then followed by a contemporary dialogue between the implied author and Lil about the latter’s husband Albert’s de-mobbing.

Mostly the voices place the reader in the listening position, as an observer of the lives of the participants.  But in places the reader is involved, asked to become part of the “we [who] should stop and drink” (ibid, p. 1009, line 335) and accompanied by an unknown “third who walks always beside you” (ibid, p. 1010, line 360).  The tone is also diverse – sometimes serious, sometimes frivolous, often enigmatic and baffling – as it accompanies content varying from natural descriptions to social situations to philosophical meditations.

These poems all illustrate how the voice of a literary text is vital to the total effect of a work on the reader (Abrams, 1993, p.157), and how it is generated by the use of first person narrator, and/or of tone of voice, to create the sense of a presence, a persona, either authorial, fictional or implied within the work.

(C) Jud House 20/11/1998

NB:  I was going to put links to all the poems used in this essay, but was unable to locate them individually.  When collections were found they were invariable for the purchase of the volumes.  No doubt I was looking in the wrong place.  However, the Norton Anthology Third Edition referred to, and displayed at the beginning, is readily available in Libraries and online.  There are of course later editions, but I do not know whether all the works mentioned will be in them.

Jud House  17/10/2012


Abrams, M H (1993)  A Glossary of Literary Terms 6th Edition.  Fort Worth:  Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

Allison, Barrows, Blake, Carr, Eastman, & English Jnr; + Stallworthy (essay) (1983)  The Norton Anthology of Poetry 3rd Edition.  New York:  W W Norton & Company. (Referred to as NORTON)

Saunders, I (1993)  Open Texts, Partial Maps – A Literary Theory Handbook  Nedlands:  The University of Western Australia.

Selden, R & Widdowson, P (1993) A Reader’s guide toContemporary Literary Theory Third Edition  Hertfordshire:  Harvester Wheatsheaf.  (Referred to as SELDEN)

Thomas, D (1983)  Quite Early One Morning – Poems, Stories, Essays.  London:  J M Dent & Sons Ltd.

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