ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Poet and Speaker

Updated on July 21, 2019
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

Arthur Miller

Source

Who Speaks the Poem?

When referring to the speaker of the poem, it is always more accurate and safer to say, "the speaker" instead of "the poet" because the speaker of a poem is not always the poet. A poem is a crafted performance, a portrayal, or a dramatization similar to a play. The speaker is quite often a created character, just as the characters who are on display in a play are created characters.

Most poets possess a sincere fondness for their poems. They have no compunction about claiming the importance of their life experience, their personal goals, dreams, and heartfelt struggles that inform their poems. But they still quite often create characters through which to expresses that experience and those struggles.

Speaking through Characters

Often many poets may claim that their poems are their children; thus it is important to keep in mind that children and their parents are not the same. Children may, and often do, hold very different beliefs and attitudes from their parents. And a poem's speaker may profess very different attitudes from the poet who wrote that speaker into existence, many times for that exact purpose.

Even though poets are close to their poems, they may not always place biographical information in their poems. Poets may not always reveal their exact beliefs in their poems. Like playwrights, poets usually create characters through which they speak in their poems.

Readers are not likely to confuse the characters in a play with the playwright. Thus, no one would make the mistake of thinking that Willie Loman, the character in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, is Miller himself. Miller has explained that the Loman character is, in fact, based on the experiences of one of Miller's uncles.

Yet because Langston Hughes has written in his poem titled "Cross," "My old man is a white old man / And my old mothers black," readers often surmise that Langston Hughes himself had a white father. Both Hughes' parents, however, were black. Hughes has created a character in his poem, just as Arthur Miller created Willie Loman in his play.

The Speaker Is Not Necessarily the Poet

When discussing a poem, the reader is always on more solid ground if s/he refers to the person vocalizing the words as "the speaker," instead of "the poet." A poet can give his character any ideas or beliefs that are necessary for the execution of the poem's purpose. According to Anna Story, discussing this issue in "How to Tell Who the Speaker Is in a Poem,"

The speaker is the voice or "persona" of a poem. One should not assume that the poet is the speaker, because the poet may be writing from a perspective entirely different from his own, even with the voice of another gender, race or species, or even of a material object.

In his poem, "Cross" Langston Hughes explores the idea of how an individual of mixed race might feel. So he created a mixed race character and let him speak. Hughes, himself, cannot be testifying to how that person feels, because he does not actually have the experience himself. But he is perfectly capable of exploring the idea, the "what if" situation, that poets engage in quite often.

A Caveat

Langston Hughes' "Cross" would likely have been a better poem, had he not chosen to engage the first person. Some issues simply cry out for authenticity that speculation of this kind cannot provide. Hughes message would have been similar, but he would have avoided the twofold issue that he would be mistaken for a mixed race individual and that the plight of the speaker remains under a cloud of doubt.

That fact does not detract from what other poets have achieved in their character creation. For example, Emily Dickinson assumes the persona of adult male to express the experience of "There's been a Death in the Opposite House," and her portrayal remains genuine.

Langston Hughes

Source

Exploration and Creativity

Poets, as well as novelists and playwrights, often explore feelings and thoughts and situations that they have not personally experienced. They often explore and dramatize beliefs that they do not necessarily hold. For this reason, it is always safer to assume that the poet is creating a character rather than merely testifying, that s/he is exploring ideas rather than merely elaborating his/her own beliefs, thoughts, or feelings.

Even though the poet may, in fact, be testifying and issuing his/her own beliefs, thoughts, or feelings, it is still more accurate and safer to assume that the poem is being spoken by a character, rather than by the poet.

Identifying the Speaker in a Poem

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Submit a Comment
  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    3 years ago from U.S.A.

    Thank you, John. Good to hear corroboration from a practicing poet. In her poem, "There's been a Death, in the opposite House," Emily Dickinson's speaker says,

    Somebody flings a Mattress out —

    The Children hurry by —

    They wonder if it died — on that —

    I used to — when a Boy —

    The speaker is thus an adult man looking back to when he was a boy. By allowing the notion that the speaker is always the poet, one would have assume that Emily Dickinson was transgendered--not so likely back in the 19th century.

  • Jodah profile image

    John Hansen 

    3 years ago from Queensland Australia

    This is an interesting point of view Linda. I often write poetry about things I have not experienced myself, but they almost always echo my personal view on the subject. Occasionally they will be spoken through a character as in a story but often I am happy to be seen as the poet and speaker.

    I do admit though that I have had readers mistakenly think that some events in my poems are things I have gone through myself. Thank you for sharing this perspective.

working

This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

Show Details
Necessary
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Features
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Marketing
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Statistics
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)