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How do poets use ‘voice’ to instil their poems with personality? Consider with reference to three poets.

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Introduction

How do poets use 'voice' to instil their poems with personality? Consider with reference to three poets. For poetry to be truly personal, a voice is needed. It is through the voice of a poet that the reader can glean some sense of that poet's identity and nature. Who are they? What are they trying to say? Why? One could even go so far as to say that the voice of a poem or poet is fundamental to its aesthetic value and 'readability' - without a distinct and clear voice, how can we distinguish a poem from the surrounding, ambient babble? It is the voice which endears a poet to the reader - without a voice, how can we identify with a poet? All these questions must be considered carefully. The voice of a poet can be a vehicle for political, personal, and social expression, as well as instilling a poem with a sense of personality - one might say the function of a poet's 'voice' is to stamp their poem with their identity. It is the idea of an author's voice, rather than the voice itself which draws us towards the author as an entity - someone with whom we can identify, converse and understand. The actual process of reading may be, on one level, entirely one-sided, but in reading a poem (or any piece of literature for that matter) we bring as much to the work as we take from it. In this way, reading a poem is not one-sided at all, and is instead a rich progression towards a higher understanding from the reader. In the end, it comes down to the age-old question: do words on a page in a closed book actually mean anything until they are read, and even when they are, is it possible to be both 'voiceless' and meaningful? It has been argued in Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory (Bennett & Royle, 1999) ...read more.

Middle

Unlike "Daddy", this poem is not addressed or aimed at anyone in particular, but this does not mean that it is any less personal, and it still retains Plath's 'voice' as she is again speaking in the first person. The poem reinforces the poet's sense of abject loneliness in a world populated by well-to-do figures of society who (it seems) neither really care for, nor understand her. In "The Bee Meeting", Plath joins various members of the parish to collect honey from the "white hive"(34). When the other figures don their veils and heavy outer garments for protection, however, their identities are lost, and this frightens Plath, who does not want to be lost in turn: Is it some operation that is taking place? 30 It is the surgeon my neighbours are waiting for, This apparition in a green helmet, Shining gloves and white suit. Is it the butcher, the grocer, the postman, someone I know? 35 (30-35) Plath's voice comes across most strongly, however, when she tells us of her fear and her nakedness while all others are clothed. We are told that she is "nude as a chicken neck, does nobody love me?" (6) and "Now I am milkweed silk, the bees will not notice./They will not smell my fear, my fear, my fear." (9-10) Clearly, a tortured, lonely, forlorn voice is at work here, appealing vainly for understanding in the hopelessly detached way that abject melancholia brings. Her tired, sad, frail voice is heard at the end: "Whose is that long white box in the grove, what have they accomplished, why am I cold." (55) The lack of a question mark at the end implies that an answer is not expected, perhaps because Plath knows that she will never receive one. The subtlety in the image of the coffin-like "long white box" hints at hidden depths to Plath's feelings - depths which are both limitless and moving. ...read more.

Conclusion

Earlier in this essay, I mentioned Roland Barthes' piece, "The Death of the Author", and it seems appropriate here, now that I have highlighted the ways in which these poets operate concerning 'voice', to analyse his essay in this context. Barthes holds that an author or poet cannot be individual or original because he or she is merely a product of the society that surrounds them. This throws the whole concept of the 'author function' into question: is an author really an author? Have they really written what they have written? I believe that the use of 'voice' in poetry proves that a poet or an author can be individual and original. It is true that a poet like Tom Leonard or Linton Kwesi Johnson writes in the dialect of his society, and is therefore (to an extent) a product of that society, but this does not address the fact that these poets are entities in themselves, bringing something original to their work, and they are not simply blank sheets which society has filled in. In short, these poets do not regurgitate their society: they regurgitate themselves. Every poet brings something new and original to the world of poetry and literature, and if this were not the case, then poetry and literature would never have advanced at all. Wordsworth said that a poet is someone who is "pleased with his own passions and volitions, and who rejoices more than other men in the spirit of life that is in him; delighting to contemplate similar volitions and passions as manifested in the goings-on of the Universe, and habitually impelled to create them where he does not find them," ("Preface to Lyrical Ballads", 1798) and to this I would only add that today, a great poet should have a strong voice. The voice of a poet is his true identity - that which he is judged against, and that which compares him to all others. Ultimately, a poet's voice is his defining feature: an existential monument to who he is - something entirely unique, and something that should be cherished. ...read more.

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