6. Speaker & Voice

SPEAKER/ADDRESSEE. All poems have a voice, which can be called a speaker (or in some case speakers, if there is more than one person “speaking” the poem).

  • Who “tells” the poem? Are there things you can say about the speaker’s personality, point of view, tone, society, age, or gender?
  • Does the speaker assume a persona at any point in the poem, and speak “as” a particular person (e.g., “I am Lazarus, come from the dead . . . I shall tell you all”)?
  • Does the speaker seem attached or detached from what is said?
  • What effect do the speaker’s characteristics have on the poem?

Likewise, all poems have a silent or implied listener/reader, an addressee.

  • Is it possible to figure out to whom the poem is addressed? Is there an ideal listener/reader?
  • Does the speaker seek anything from the listener/reader (sympathy, support, agreement, etc.)?

Narrative/Narrator. Poems capture thoughts, ideas, feelings, impressions, experiences, and incidents, but sometimes poems also tell a story. Ask yourself:

  • What is happening in the poem? What action, drama, or conflict is present? Is there more than one event in the poem? Does anything change in the poem (is an action completed, does an attempted action fail, or does someone change in an important way)?
  • Who tells the story, and what relationship does the narrator have to the story?

[Key terms: speaker, addressee, tone, persona, point of view, ideal reader/listener, narrative, narrator, voice, conflict, dramatic monologue, lyric poem, irony, theme.]