Drama and poetry tend to emphaize overt performance more than do short stories.  How is the more direct performance aspect of drama and/or poetry reflected in poems?How do these literary elements...

Drama and poetry tend to emphaize overt performance more than do short stories.  How is the more direct performance aspect of drama and/or poetry reflected in poems?

How do these literary elements affect a readers experience?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Poems -- especially lyric poems -- often have a highly performative aspect.  Unfortunately, this fact is too often forgotten by readers who automatically assume that the speaker of a lyric poem is necessarily the author of the poem.  This is rarely a safe assumption.  Even when the poem clearly invites us to identify author with speaker, it is almost always wiser to refer to "the speaker" of the poem rather than saying, for instance, "as Donne says" or "as Poe asserts." It is the speaker who is saying or asserting.  Donne and Poe are the creators of the speakers.

In that sense, then, lyric poets are like dramatists. They create characters who speak.  Some poets (such as Robert Browning) do this quite obviously (as in "My Last Duchess" or "Porphria's Lover"). This sense of poet as creators of dramatic characters deserves more emphasis than it usually receives.

Often in lyric poems, a dramatic situation is clearly implied, as in John Donne's poem "The Flea," in which the speaker of the poem (not Donne) clearly addresses another person.  For example, in the opening lines of the poem the speaker says to another person (who turns out to be a woman),

Mark but this flea, and mark in this

How little that which thou deniest me is.

All throughout the poem, the speaker addresses this woman in a kind of mini-drama in which only one voice is heard. (Browning uses much the same technique in "My Last Duchess"). In "The Flea," however, the woman responds through her actions if not through her words, thereby making the poem even more dramatic.

Some poems actually contain dialogue between two or more characters, thus making them even more dramatic in the literal sense of the word.  Some of the poems in the final third of Edmund Spenser Amoretti sonnet sequence display this feature.

Some poems by the same author are paired, allowing one character to make a statement in one poem and then allowing another character to reply in an accompanying work. For example, in the poem "Wrapt in my careless cloak," by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, a dsigruntled man complains about the behavior of women, while in an accompanying poem titled "Girt in my guiltless gown," a woman replies to the man's charges.

Of course, another way in which lyric poems can be performative is that they almost demand to be read aloud if one hopes to appreciate all their subtleties of sound and sense.  This is less true of novels, and reading an entire novel out loud is therefore not something that most people do (at least not any more). 

Poetic dramas have been written (for examples, Shelley's The Cenci, which was designed more to be read than to be performed), and narrative poems (especially epics, such as Paradise Lost) often contain a great deal of dialogue.

In all these ways, then, poetry can often have many performative dimensions.

 

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