Poetry must be Heard

When I’m reading a poem for the first time it usually takes the first two stanzas for either my pulse to quicken and I slow down to absorb the poem or nothing happens and I continue reading hoping I’ll find that moment later on. When it does have that stirring force I’m always amazed at how much more powerful it becomes if you read the poem aloud– whisper it even. It’s rhythm takes on a life of its own.

John Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale opening line has a shiver of s’ which as you whisper create a languid energy. Languid because as you say the s’ you’re letting breath out and it’s relaxing you but the energy vibrates through the beat of the words, so you actually begin to feel the drowsy numbness:

My heart aches and a drowsy numbness pains my sense

Christina Rossetti’s De Profundis uses o’s:

Oh why is heaven built so far, Oh why is earth set so remote?
I cannot reach the nearest star That hangs afloat.

The open sound of the o’s mixed with the tone of what’s written evoke yearning.

Other times it’s the composition of the words, like in this one by Wordsworth; the way they’re placed together. After ‘Why art thou silent!’ Try saying the rest in one breath:

Why art thou silent! Is thy love a plant
Of such weak fibre that the treacherous air
Of absence withers what was once so fair?

By the time you reach the end more than likely you’re on the last puff of air and that feeling reinforces the  ‘withering.’ Or try this, say it in one breath until you reach ‘what was once so fair‘ suddenly it takes on a new meaning, with the new breath the reminder of what was fair revitalizes.

Which poems have moved you? Have you read them aloud?


8 thoughts on “Poetry must be Heard

  1. I love the way your ready poetry, Kate, and find so much in it! I find it very hard to read poetry for pleasure, and over and above that to gather such tiny little details…I wish I could read like that. Thank you so much for all the little things you share with us about your poetry-reading journey. These are the little things I can keep in mind during the few times I dare to pick up verse to read!

    1. Thank you, Risa! A few years ago I never would’ve thought I was going to like poetry so much but I’m really starting to get into it.
      It’s so nice to hear that you enjoy what I share. :)

  2. Hi! I really enjoyed this post and I’ve also had a look at your blog and I think it’s great. I especially liked your previous post about Emily Bronte’s poetry. I love her poems, too. Will follow :-)

  3. Yeah, I think there’s not enough emphasis given to heard poetry – whether it sounds musical or emotional – not in school, anyway. Have you tried Coleridge? He is divine.

  4. What an interesting post–I especially liked this idea:
    >The open sound of the o’s mixed with the tone of what’s written evoke yearning.

    I think there is a lot to what you say about the rhythm and word choice and structure of a poem affecting how you read it and respond to it.

    I personally find Keats’ poems to be among the easiest to read aloud and memorize.

  5. I love this post! It reminds me of a favorite stanza in favorite Auden’s poem ‘As I Walked Out One Evening’:

    But all the clocks in the city
    Began to whirr and chime:
    ‘O let not Time deceive you,
    You cannot conquer Time.

    In ‘cannot conquer’ I hear a clock ticking..

  6. “You saw but sorrow in its waning form,
    A working sea remaining from a storm,
    Where now the waves roll o’er the deep,
    And faintly murmur ere they fall asleep.”
    — Dryden

    I actually discovered this in James Fenimore Cooper’s book The Pathfinder where he quoted it at the beginning of a chapter. I first read this over a month ago and I am still mulling over it! I can’t think of a more beautiful picture of the sea than that!

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