"Soundings of Things Done":
The Poetry and Poetics of Sound
in the Romantic Ear and Era
A forum convened by
Susan J. Wolfson, Princeton University
Well, that was the title, ably coined by Stuart Curran for the Keats-Shelley Association of America, that we sent to the MLA, in glad cooperation with President Marjorie Perloff's invitation for a Convention mega-colloquium on "The Sound of Poetry." The editors of the Convention Program sighed, and shortened it to "Romanticism: Poetry and Poetics of Sound," at once killing off the resonant Sidney sound-bite, and foreshortening our sprightly leap from instance to theory, and our lovely apt anagrams. Not poetic, that Convention bureau. But what they lacked in wit in the program-prose they made up for in the resourcefulness of material doing: they did manage to schedule this session on verse in a perversely narrow wind-tunnel of a room in Philadelphia, 2006, where, too poignantly, hearing was hard, we were told.
So we, and our frustrated auditors, are especially grateful for Orrin Wang's invitation to revise our essays for a new hearing in Romantic Praxis, promoted not only from narrow wind-tunnel to worldwide web, but also released from the torture to twenty minutes on the MLA's new LimiTimer: a branded coinage, catchily two-sided, with a single shared T facing in opposite directions at once, that reads like a lampoon of those blended phonetic effects in Romantic verse that each of the speakers tries in various ways to keep in earshot—not to mention a parody of romantic end-rhyme itself, with its metrically clocked bounds of sound.
Our participants, now unbound, are, in addition to me, Adam Potkay, James Chandler, and Garrett Stewart, and in our auditorium, all those whom we quote. I wonder about the sound of sound in Romantic poetry. Adam has his ear to the sound of Wordsworth's stanzas; Jim relays Wordsworth's Power of Sound into the Sound of Power and what "sound overpowers" in the Intimations Ode and Shelleyan coordinates; and the Master-Ear of the Phonotext, Garrett Stewart, catches the Romantic phone-omenon in Romantic poetry, its reverberations in Victorian imagination, and its resonance in cognition theory today.
Susan J. Wolfson