What is the spokesperson in a poetic text called? I have four possible answers: the poetic subject (don't think it's that one), the monologic subject, the lyrical object or the lyrical subject.

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Marietta Sadler eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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At the risk of confusing matters, I would suggest a fifth option: "the speaker." The trouble with "the poetic subject," "the monologic subject," or "the lyrical subject" is that the noun "subject" implies that the person whose voice the poem is written in is also the person who the poem is about, but this is not necessarily always the case. If we take William Blake's poem "London" as an example, the opening line begins, "I wander thro' each charter'd street," and the poem continues to describe all the people and the scenes that the "I" of the opening line encounters as he wanders. However, the poem is not really about the person we can identify as the "I' of the opening line; rather, it is about the people he meets. Those people, and not the speaker, are the subjects of the poem. And, therefore, the "I" of the first line is the speaker but not the subject.

I think "the speaker" quite nicely captures the idea, too, that poems are meant to be spoken aloud. They are often lyrical and rhythmic and need the spoken voice to do justice to this lyricism and rhythm.

Another advantage of using "the speaker" is that the term applies equally well regardless of whether the poem is written in first, second, or third person. In Ted Hughes's "Bayonet Charge," for example, the opening line ("Suddenly he awoke and was running") signals a third-person narrator. The "he" of that line is the subject, but he is not the speaker. The speaker is the one telling us about the "he" who awoke and was running. Likewise, it also works in a poem written in the second person (such as Andy Weir's "The Egg," which begins, "You were on your way home when you died"), if we identify the person addressing the "You" as "the speaker." The "You" in this instance would properly be identified as "the subject." "The speaker" is the voice that is addressing the "You."

I hope that the fifth option I've suggested here serves to clarify rather than confuse matters for you.

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Poetry, or verse, has one narrator. If the poem is in the first person (either by using "I" or by avoiding any pronouns, the proper term is "First-person narrator." For example, Shakespeare's sonnets, or Wordsworth's "I wandered lonely as a cloud." when the narrator is a constructed character, as in Browning's "My Last Duchess," the narrator cn be referred to as a "fictive"or a "dramatic first-person narrator."

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