Essay: Listening to Poetry

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Listening to Poetry

Differences in Reading and Listening to William Blake's "London"

Although poetry often contains both visual and audible elements, a poem is not a poem if it cannot be read out loud and if that reading does not evoke some sense of melody, some musical reminiscence. After all, poetry is, simply, set to verse. Many poems, when read aloud, give the listener a far different experience than when they are simply read, silently, to one's self. William Blake's classic poem "London" is no different. A silent reading of the poem, compared an audible hearing of the poem as it is read by John Stallworthy makes a great difference in the understanding of both the poem's cadence and its meaning.

When comparing a silent reading of the poem with an audible hearing of it, a few key differences can be noticed immediately. First, the connections between images that Blake makes become emboldened through the hearing of the poem. When one first reads the poem without listening to it being read, one is doubtlessly aware of the many images that Blake presents. Of course, the beginning of the poem involves a narrator who is walking through the streets of London "mark[ing] every face [he] meets" (Blake). Some of those faces that Blake sees include an infant's, a soldier's, a chimneysweeper's, and more. While this is information that can be quite easily gleaned from the written version of the poem, it is not until the audible reading that one becomes aware of their connection. When looking at the poem on the page, the reader certainly identifies the images of "every cry of man," and "ever infant's cry of fear" as important, but in the audible version of the poem, speaker John Stallworthy recites each of these lines with the same tone and inflection, allowing the listener to understand that they are equal in Blake's eyes. Each of the images is connected to the other because each is a different kind of "[mark] of woe" (Blake). It is only through Stallworthy's treatment of these images that the listener can understand how they are connected, which is the very essence of the poem. Second, listeners have an easier time understanding the very essence of the poem when hearing it read simply because of the way in which John Stallworthy reads it. Reciting in the tone of the mournful observer, and speaking in a British accent, listeners could almost believe John Stallworthy was Blake telling them about the deplorable conditions in his London. Thus, an audible reading of the poem allows readers to feel more connected with its contents; it inspires emotional connection and understanding of the culture in which the poem was written.

In addition to these most obvious differences between the spoken and the written poem, the spoken poem also allows listeners to grasp much more easily the musical cadences of the work. For instance, the spoken poem emphasizes the use of meter and rhyme, allowing the reader to comprehend its musical qualities and consider their impact on the meaning of the poem. Read aloud, the end rhyme used in the poem becomes especially prominent. Although the ABAB pattern can clearly be identified through reading the poem silently, a simple identification of this rhyme scheme can lead to the identification of this poem's auditory qualities as childlike, or even amateur, as this rhyme… [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

Listening to Poetry.  (2009, May 10).  Retrieved July 20, 2019, from

MLA Format

"Listening to Poetry."  10 May 2009.  Web.  20 July 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Listening to Poetry."  May 10, 2009.  Accessed July 20, 2019.