Friday, August 21, 2015

On Lyric Poetry

Lyric is still pre-eminently the non-social genre: though normative narrative and normative drama require at least two characters and are therefore ineluctably social, normative lyric requires not a character but a voice, one engaged in solitary meditation. Meditation may of course include direct address, so much so that some theorists have called apostrophe the defining trope of lyric; but the person addressed is, in the normative lyric, always silent and almost always absent. Only one consciousness, and that an abstract one, is present in the normative lyric.

No single description fits all lyrics, but I will proceed on the assumption that the purpose of lyric, as a genre, is to represent an inner life in such a manner that it is assumable by others. The inner life of anyone may of course have many aims and thoughts directed to social purposes; but the inner life is by definition one not engaged directly in social life. Rather, it is engaged in a reflective look at its own processes of thought and feeling. Of course it may, in that moment, urge social action on itself. But social transactions as such cannot take place in lyric as they do in narrative or drama.

Because the inner life is partly constructed through legitimating vehicles (myths, social positions, religious dogma, ritual practice, gender roles) which undergo historical and cultural change, paying attention to poetic strategies necessarily entails awareness of the existential possibilities available at a given historical moment. - Helen Vendler

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