Monday, March 24, 2008

"Like noises in a swound..."

"Associations are accidents of sound, in which words as things gain unsuspected power." So says Susan Wolfson in her essay, "Sounding Romantic: The Sound of Sound," which collects and interprets such data as:

"Those of us who may have been thinking of the path of poetry, those who understand that words are thoughts and not only our own thoughts . . . must be conscious of this: that, above everything else, poetry is words; and that words, above everything else, are, in poetry, sounds." - Wallace Stevens

Coleridge's "Man communicates by articulation of Sounds..." - and his notebook entry:

"N.B.—In my intended Essay in defence of Punning—(Apology for Paronomasy, alias Punning) to defend those turns of words,

che l'onda chiara
E l'ombra non men cara,

In certain styles of writing, by proving that Language itself is formed upon associations of this kind . . . that words are not mere symbols of things & thought, but themselves things—"

(Notebooks 3: 3762)


Ancient Mariner:

The Ice was here, the Ice was there,
The Ice was all around:
It crack'd and growl'd, and roar'd and howl'd—
Like noises in a swound!

... about which Wolfson remarks, "In this ice-sounding, noise similizes the assault: swound is a ghost of sound, a rhyme-word that lurks in the aural field without precipitating."

Eliot's "auditory imagination" ("the feeling for syllable and rhythm, penetrating far below the conscious levels of thought and feeling, invigorating every word").

Wordsworth's Note to The Thorn on the mind's adhesion "to words . . . as things, active and efficient, which are of themselves part of the passion."

... Dorothy Wordsworth's absorption of the poet's lines:

"here is something inexpressibly soothing to me in the sound of those two Lines

Oh listen! for the Vale profound
Is overflowing with the sound—

I often catch myself repeating them in disconnection with any thought, or even I may say, recollection of the Poem."

The sound of the word sound: "There's the Latin sonare: the very word is like a bell for poets, the fount of sonnet ("little sound") and persona ("sounding through"). Petitioning for, and sometimes crowding into the same literal space, and open for punning (O Pun! to honor Charles Lamb), there are Old English tributes of sound (test the depths); sound from a different source for healthy (sane), and with a slight shift, as in sound asleep, whole, entire; and the waters (more etymology yet) in Milton's poetry of Creation, "Sounds and Seas" (PL 7.399)—poignantly sounding sees, what the blind poet does no more."

And lots else.

When I was a curator doing audio restoration of poetry recordings, I was struck by how the birth of audio technology took place when Whitman and Tennyson and Browning were still around to be recorded: it was a 19th century technology. Amazing to think that we almost could have had Hopkins' own voice to hear today!

Wolfson's essay is from a volume called “Soundings of Things Done”: The Poetry and Poetics of Sound in the Romantic Ear and Era," which she edited; it's online, as a "Romantic Circles Electronic Edition." There are also essays by James Chandler, Garrett Stewart, and Adam Potkay.

Writing from the punning senses of individual words, taken for granted in both Modernist and Post-Modernist poetry, actually has Romantic roots.


David M Lumsden said...

Fascinating gathering of fragments ... I'm reminded of Auden's line in 'The Truest Poetry Is the Most Feigning':

'Good poets have a weakness for bad puns'

David M Lumsden said...

Another connection springs to mind: in an 'in conversation' I did with August Kleinzahler way back in 1992 (later published in the Spring 1994 issue of Nocturnal Submissions) I asked him about his time as a student in Bunting's Creative Writing class in 1971/72 at the University of Victoria, British Columbia; Kleinzahler recalled:

"He [Bunting] read to us in that class as well, and sang to us Elizabethan songs; he read to us in Persian and in German, French, Arabic to see if we'd get the sense by the sound. We met at his little bungalow down by the ocean, and he played Scarlatti and Dowland, Bach's Goldberg variations. He exposed us to a lot of pleasant noises; musical and verbal."

the unreliable narrator said...

If you're hiding that wax cylinder of Hopkins in your desk, mo'chou, you'd better GIVE IT UP NOW!

Don Share said...

Well, how'd you like to hear some lady in 1860 sing “Au Clair de la Lune?”