"Soundings of Things Done": The Poetry and Poetics of Sound in the Romantic Ear and Era
Sounding Romantic: The Sound of Sound
Susan J. Wolfson, Princeton University
1 1942; rpt.
The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the
Imagination (New York: Vintage, 1951) 32. This is also
the place to say that my essay takes foundational
inspiration from Garrett Stewart's Reading Voices:
Literature and the Phonotext (Univ. of California
Press, 1990) and has been encouraged and everywhere
improved by his eyes and ears. I'm also grateful for the
benefit of Andy Elfenbein's careful and carefully informed
conversations with me.
Lectures, 1808-1819, On Literature, ed. R. A.
Foakes; 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1987) 2: 217, my
Stewart gives this passage pride of place in Reading
Voices, the first epigraph of his Prologue
(1). For quotations of Romantic poetry and prose, I assume
sources are near enough at hand or keystroke, and so I cite
no particular edition. Titles in quotation marks are, by
editorial convention, derived from first line of untitled
poems; italic titles are the poets' own.
Lecture on Matthew Arnold, 1933 (towards the end); rpt.
The Uses of Poetry and the Uses of Criticism
Paul Fussell's remark on the slowed time of slow
time (Poetic Meter & Poetic Form [1969;
Random House, 1971] 41), I'd even add the foot of
and. For my fuller discussion of the poetics of
silence in this ode (and companionable readers), see "The
Know of Not to Know It: Returns to Keats's Urn," in
Praxis : "'Ode on a Grecian Urn': Hypercanonicity
and Pedagogy," ed. James O'Rourke, Orrin Wang & John
Garrett Stewart's seminar will take us further, into an
auditorium of potential auralities, sometimes with thematic
import, that press into the auditions of reading and the
arrays of textuality.
Paradise Lost 2.541 for the first; then Satan in
awe of God's high formalism over chaos's "formless mass"
(3.708): "Confusion heard his voice, and wilde uproar /
Stood rul'd, stood vast infinitude confin'd"
(710-11)—with a dramatic halting of pentameter into
spondees at –roar / Stood rul'd stood
The Manuscripts of The Younger Romantics, vol. XI,
ed. Cheryl Fallon Giuliano (Garland, 1997) 60-61; I 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
"Milton," in The Lives of the Most Eminent English
Poets; With Critical Observations on Their Works; ed.
Roger Lonsdale, 4 vols. (Clarendon, 2006) 1: 294; Johnson's
italics credit another "ingenious critick" for the remark
comment recorded by Samuel Carter Hall, A Book of
Memories of Great Men and Women of the Age, from Personal
Acquaintance (London: Virtue & Co., 1871), p.
poach on Garrett Stewart's refined attention in Reading
Stewart follows the trail of Alight into an
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)" (ibid 153).
The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed.
Kathleen Coburn (Princeton Univ. Press, 1973), vol. 3:
3762. For fine attention to the sound qualities of
Coleridge's verse, see Anya Taylor, "Coleridge and the
Pleasures of Verse," Studies in Romanticism 40
This is how it plays in Bishop Thomas 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
"Christmas Out of Doors," The Friend No. 19,
December 28, 1809; The Friend, ed. Barbara E.
Rooke, 2 vols. (Princeton Univ. Press, 1969) 2: 257.
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
Letters of John Keats, ed. Hyder Edward Rollins
(Harvard Univ. Press, 1958) 2: 171.
For noting this semantically laden relation of sound, I'm
indebted to Michael O'Neill, "'Driven as in Surges':
Texture and Voice in Romantic Poetry (The Wordsworth
Circle 38 , 91).
"Words, Wish, Worth" (1979; The Unremarkable
Wordsworth [Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1987] 99,
101-2). I give fuller attention to this passage in "What's
Wrong with Formalist Criticism?", Studies in
Romanticism 37 (Spring 1998) 77-94.
Note to The Thorn, Lyrical Ballads 1800;
Dorothy Wordsworth had conveyed the verse in a letter to
Coleridge, December 1798; The Letters of William and
Dorothy Wordsworth: The Early Years 1787-1805, ed.
Ernest de Selincourt, 2d edn. Rev. Chester L. Shaver
(Clarendon Press, 1967) 239.
"Poems, In Two Volumes," and Other Poems, 1800-1807 by
William Wordsworth, ed. Jared Curtis (Cornell UP,
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:
"Keats," in Allusion to the Poets (Oxford UP,
"My First Acquaintance with Poets," The Liberal 2
(April 1823); Hazlitt misremembers the phrase as
26 To Sin's cry of Death in Hell's echo-chamber, "back resounded Death" (PL 2.789), the event is first sounded in "resounded" (finely noted by Stewart, Reading Voices 80). Wordsworth ceded this dead-success when he revised to "Sounding with grappling-irons" (1850 5.447; even as the double gerunds add a present intensity of recollection).
The phonologic of ears and
sounded seems too deliberate for Cynthia Chase's
slotting into "mute catachresis," meanings and signs linked
only "by the accident of identity"; "The Accidents of
Figuration: Limits to Literal and Figurative Reading of
Wordsworth's 'Books'", Decomposing Figures: Rhetorical
Readings in the Romantic Tradition (Cornell Univ.
Press, 1986), 21, 27.
Noctes Ambrosianae, in Blackwood's Edinburgh
Magazine XLVII (December 1829), p. 872, cited by
Samuel Carter Hall, A Book of Memories, p.
Letters, The Early Years, 650.
Mont Blanc and Biographia Literaria were
published late in 1817; I haven't been able to find
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 song" (51-54).
William 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"
(Shelley's Style [Methuen, 1984] 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"
("Shelley's Mont Blanc: What the Mountain
Said," in Romanticism and Language, ed. Arden Reed
[Cornell Univ. Press, 1984] 206-7).