"Soundings of Things Done": The Poetry and Poetics of Sound in the Romantic Ear and Era
Susan J. Wolfson, Sounding Romantic: The Sound of Sound
1 This essay not only takes
its foundational inspiration from Garrett Stewart's Reading Voices:
Literature and the Phonotext (University of California Press, 1990)
but has been encouraged and everywhere improved by the attention of
his eyes and ears. I'm also grateful for the benefit of Andy
Elfenbein's careful and carefully informed conversations with me.
2 Quotations of poetry
proceed without the encumbrance of citing editions; I assume sources
are near enough at hand or keystroke. Titles in quotation are by editorial
convention derived from first lines of untitled poems; italic titles
are the poets' own.
3 Paul Fussell hears the
punned spondee of slow time (41), to which I add and.
For my fuller consideration of the poetics, and the readers with
whom I am tacitly in conversation here, see my "The Know of Not to
Know It: Returns to Keats's Urn."
draw a bit on my introduction to the Penguin Don Juan (2004). Ney,
having joined the king's army after Napoleon was exiled to Elba, rejoined
Napoleon when his troops defected, and executed for treason after the
italics credit another "ingenious critick" for the remark (William Locke).
6 See Stewart's
fuller, fine attention in Reading Voices 152-53.
7 Hearing this
suggestion, Stewart follows a slightly different trail: he's after Alight as
archaic past participle (kin to Alit), within the poetics that coordinate "sound
and the medium of vision": "'A light in sound' becomes 'Alight in sound' in
the double sense of ‘brought to light' in sound (lit, lighted, imaginatively
kindled) and descended, settled, or come to rest therein (alighted)" (153).
fine attention to the sound qualities of Coleridge's verse, see Anya
and the Pleasures of Verse."
9 This is how
it plays in Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765): "The
lady shriekte and swound away" (Sir Cauline, 183); a drunk tinker
is passed out "as if laid in a swound" (The Frolicsome Duke, 6); and
lords laugh so hard they're "readye to swound" (The Beggar's Daughter of Bednall
10 Just after,
Coleridge places an excerpt from The Prelude, including the ice-skating
scene (Friend 2: 259), a text Dorothy Wordsworth had conveyed in a letter
of December 1798 (EY 239).
11 A Philosophical
Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, 2d
edition (1759), Part II, Section XVII: "Sound and Loudness" (itself an echo
of the sense).
noting this semantically laden relation of sound, I'm indebted to Michael
as in Surges'" 91.
my own fuller attention to this passage, see in "What's Wrong with
Eagleton calls words "which sound alike but do not rhyme exactly" a para-rhyme: "a
semi-rhyme in which the consonantal sounds agree but the vowels do not" (167).
15 I follow
the transcribed ms. (from a lost original) in Richard Woodhouse's letterbook;
Rollins gives a slightly different rendition of the same ms. (Letters 1:
misremembers the phrase as Chaucer's.
17 To Sin's
cry of Death in Hell's echo-chamber, "back resounded Death" (Paradise
Lost 2.789), its sense first sounded in "resounded" (finely noted
by Stewart, Reading Voices 80). Wordsworth
let go of this success when he revised to "Sounding with grappling-irons" (1850 5.447),
though the double gerunds add a present intensity of recollection. In
motivating the phonotext of ears and sounded I'm working against
Cynthia Chase's deconstructive reading of these effects as a thematized
staging of "mute catachresis" (21), the way meanings and signs are linked "by the accident
of identity" (27).
Ambrosianae, in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine XLVII (December 1829),
p. 872; cited by Hall 372.
Blanc and Biographia Literaria were published late in 1817; I've
been unable to discover evidence of cross-influence or a common source
for the similar phrasing of "path of sound." A few years on, Thomas
Lovell Beddoes (who read both poets) may have caught this strain with lighter
luxury, closing "The Induction to the First Fytte" of The Improvisatore (1821)
thus: "With finger springing light / To joyous sounds, the songster
wight / First tuned his lyre, then danced along / Amid the mazy paths of
Keach's comment on Shelley's poetics of rhyme may illuminate the anagrammatics
here and the metapoetics of sound in 30-34: the "verbal imagination
structures and shapes, without giving a closed or determinate pattern
to, an experience which defies structuring and shaping" (196). To Frances Ferguson
the "linguistic tour de force" of the anagrams is a relational punning
that underscores "the symbiosis of things and mind. . . . the inevitability
of any human's seeing things in terms of relationship" (206-7).