Voice and the Sounds of Poetry

The ability to verbalize brings us out of the darkness. To express the self and find others who express the self removes isolation and argues for our humanity. The sounds to be made in the creation of a poem are at the root of the art. Stewart points out these things in “Sound” (59-105), and she emphasizes the necessity of verbalization in the creation of an individual. (As a side-note, in her summary of Dennett’s treatise, it is interesting that the theoretical cyborg or even the realistic intelligent ape qualify in the status of personhood (61-2)). Although Stewart breaks out different components of sound (including not-sound) and their relation to poetry, I was most interested in her discussion of the relations between meter and rhythm. In her words, there is a “tension between rhythm and meter” (77). What is this tension?

Stewart’s quotation of Zuckerkandl (“Meter is the repetition of the identical; rhythm is the return of the familiar” (77)) is the simplest reduction I find in the chapter, and I can begin to see the way in which the tension functions, I think. In Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130, for a familiar example, the reader expects a certain measurement of time (or meter) given the form. The first line establishes a realization of that expectation:

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;

repeating the iambic foot straight through the line for a pentameter. The rhythm follows suit, as no other feet are substituted in. In the second line, however, the rhythm is disrupted while the meter remains:

Coral is far more red, than her lips red:

This is still a pentameter line, but the regular and familiar rhythm of the iamb has been displaced. This is the sort of tension which I believe Stewart to be referring. This second line also employs several other verbal techniques Stewart discusses, including the caesura and the stop-sounds of the /d/ in “red” (right at the caesura, as well), /p/ in “lips,” and the /d/ again at the end of the line. The placement of these stoppages in the voice emphasizes the divergence of the rhythm from the familiar and the meter.

In applying some of Stewart’s reasoning to an external example, I think I have managed to explain to myself the purpose of that small part of the chapter; I still have many questions, though, including as always the intentionality of such things in free verse. While Stewart presents good examples of obviously intentional poets, not all free-verse is so rhythmically or metrically considered. I wonder, therefore, whether the intentionality of application of these tools can be successful in contemporary poetic creation?


Works Cited

Stewart, Susan.  “Sound.”  Poetry and the Fate of the Senses.  Chicago: U. Chicago, 2002.  Print.  59-105.

Shakespeare, William.  “Sonnet 130.”


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