Poems written in the first person, poems that contain passages of conversation or dialogue, and narrative poems all rely on their readers’ capacity to process discourse. Discourse features in the texts of those poems—features such as temporal and spatial reference, narrative “framing”, and the strategic use of direct speech—inevitably affect the way readers receive the central themes. Recent developments in linguistic theory, including developments that address discourse structure, thus offer literary scholars new tools for approaching a richer understanding of those poems.
In Poetic Voices, Austin demonstrates some of the potential applications of such a discourse-based stylistics by pursuing what amounts to a literary conundrum, an apparent anomaly at the heart of a well-respected text, William Wordsworth’s “Resolution and Independence.” By applying a series of insights borrowed from linguists’ theories of discourse structure, Austin accounts satisfactorily for the poem’s linguistic irregularity. At each stage, he reviews other poetic texts that also respond well to analysis from that particular stylistic perspective—works by Coleridge, Frost, Shelley, and Tennyson.
As a discipline, stylistics aims first and foremost to influence our understanding of individual literary works. In this tradition, Poetic Voices presents unconventional and challenging interpretations of poems such as Shelley’s “Ozymandias” and Tennyson’s Ulysses. In addition to these literary claims, however, Poetic Voices also seeks to extend the domain of stylistics generally by establishing the contribution that linguists’ theories of discourse structure may make to the appreciation of literature.
This book makes claims in both literary and linguistic/stylistic fields. Like the author’s previous book, Language Crafted: A Linguistic Theory of Poetic Syntax, this volume will be most enthusiastically received and most thoroughly appreciated by stylists. Nevertheless, Poetic Voices is fully accessible to non-specialists who will appreciate the discussions of Romantic and post-Romantic texts without having to become experts in discourse analysis.