Lyric poetry and the positioning of the lyric speaker

Snarey, Nicola (2017) Lyric poetry and the positioning of the lyric speaker. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Lyric poetry is frequently viewed by critics as distinct from narrative poetry and prose. This distinction rests largely on the positioning of the lyric speaker vis-à-vis the poet author. Part of any definition of the lyric is the understanding that the lyric speaker is identical to the poet and therefore the poem is the unmediated direct expression of the poet’s thoughts and experiences. These assumptions which are endemic to literary and sometimes linguistic criticism have led to restricted critical studies and a preponderance of inappropriate biographical criticism. This thesis examines how the speakers in certain types of lyric poetry are positioned, and identifies where conceptions of lyric speakers may be causing the problem of the biographical fallacy.

The central questions that structure this thesis are:

• Why is the lyric speaker so often considered by critics to be identical to the poet and therefore an unmediated direct expression of the poet’s thoughts and experiences?

• Can lyric poetry instead make use of the same complexity of perspectives, voices and mediation that narrative prose does?

• What linguistic and narratological features in poetry deemed ‘personal’ to the poet might be creating the illusion of personalness, causing us to reduce this potential complexity to unmediated and monologic autobiography?

I argue that the assumption that lyric poetry represents the monologic and unmediated voice of the poet is endemic in criticism and without a more precise examination of what lyric speakers do, poetic criticism will continue to fall back on biographical criticism despite the many theoretical attempts to leave it behind. By demonstrating that there is narrativity present in lyric poetry, I argue that narratological concepts can and should be applied to lyric poetry, and therefore I join a growing discussion about how theoretical approaches to poetry can be improved by using the tools that are used to analyse narrative. Overall, my thesis is an application of narrative theory to three distinct types of lyric poetry that best demonstrate the multiperspectivism of the lyric, but are at the same time central examples of the genre: lyric poetry which uses a turn or volta to encode multiple viewpoints, poetry which appears extremely personal and connected to its poet, and poetry based on experiences of real conflict.

By using narrative theory (and where necessary drawing on literary linguistic models, such as text world theory, relevance theory and transitivity) , I analyse the point(s) of view expressed in poems considered quintessentially lyric and the positions and levels of mediation that the lyric speaker can adopt, thus demonstrating not only that lyric poetry can make use of the same complexity of perspectives, voices and mediation that narrative prose does, but that the poetic speaker operates in much the same way as that of a prose narrator. I argue that this should cause us to rethink how the speaker in lyric poetry is approached. In addition, I argue that by examining poetry in this way, we can move on from making assumptions about the biographical links between poetry and poets, and instead identify the linguistic features which cause us to assume that such a link is present.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Sotirova, Violeta
Stockwell, Peter
Keywords: lyric poetry, narratology, narrative, speaker, verse
Subjects: P Language and literature > PN Literature (General) > PN 80 Criticism
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of English
Item ID: 40731
Depositing User: Snarey, Nicola
Date Deposited: 20 Jul 2017 04:40
Last Modified: 08 Feb 2018 14:04

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