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This article is taken from PN Review 32, Volume 9 Number 6, July - August 1983.

Ideas about Voice in Poetry Christopher Middleton

EXPERT studies of sound in poetry tend to take for granted the phenomenon of voice. My purpose here is to set up some thoughts about voice and its imprints in poetry. The physiological side of the matter is not what I have in mind, and rhythmic profilings of voice-sound are so all-important as to require separate treatment. I shall record, without much elaboration, as brief notes, some of the ideas, interrogatory ideas, that have occurred to me while reading poems and listening to voices in them.

The imprints of voice in poetry, pervasive and elusive, are fundamental to the whole range of lyric expression. The question is: What is meant by 'voice', and how does a reader or listener read or listen to it? The field is one in which variables matter, and they may matter significantly even within settled types of sound-patterning. We might discriminate, somewhat as follows: Textuality attracts, directs, and structures the literary intelligence of a reader, and sometimes it may transform his whole predisposition. His training, susceptibilities, detective skills, dialectical powers, all come into play when he gathers, in the act of reading, the manifold shimmering entity that is an imaginative text in its context. Vocality, on the other hand, is, in a sense, the very authority, or source of the shimmer, in a lyrical text. When a poem lacks vocality, as it may do with good reason, or otherwise, because the bird is dead, then this lack too merits attention. ...

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