The Dramatic Monologue and Related Lyric Forms

Critical Inquiry 3 (1):131-151 (1976)
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Abstract

The most distinctive and highly valued poems of the modern era offer an image of a dramatized "I" acting in a concrete setting. The variety and importance of the poems which fall under this description are suggested simply by the mention of such names as "Elegy Written in a Country Courtyard," "Tintern Abbey," "Ode to a Nightingale," "Ulysses," "My Last Duchess," "Dover Beach," "The Windhover," "The Darkling Thrush," "Sailing to Byzantium," "Leda and the Swan," "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." The power and beauty of such poems seems intimately connected with the fact of their dramatic integrity and autonomy, and we have all been taught, in analyzing them, to refer to a "speaker" existing independent of the poet and to avoid the "intentional" and "biographical" fallacies which spuriously link the poem to the poet and the world outside the poem. Such an approach tends to undercut any notion that a poem has a single definite meaning, the meaning the poet gave it, and to support the idea that the meaning of a poem is indeterminate and/or multiple. All this is quite in accord with the orthodox critical doctrine that poetic language is differentiated from scientific language and preserved from competition with it by the fact that it is nonreferential, making no claim upon the real world; and complex, indefinite, and alogical, where scientific language is simple, definite, and logical. Ralph W. Rader is chairman of the department of English at the University of California at Berkeley. His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry are "Fact, Theory, and Literary Explanation" , "Explaining Our Literary Understanding: A Response to Jay Schleusener and Stanley Fish" , and "The Literary Theoretical Contribution of Sheldon Sacks" . Professor Rader's influential studies include Tennyson's "Maud": The Biography Genesis, "Literary Form in Factual Narrative: The Example of Boswell's Johnson," and "The Concept of Genre and Eighteenth-century Studies."

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