Adam Kosan

Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Tony Brinkley

Second Committee Member

Sarah Harlan-Haughey

Third Committee Member

Steve Evans


This thesis proposes an initial framework for understanding a poetics of listening. It takes an intentionally broad notion of “voice,” including both written voice and the physical speaking voice, as a basis for the comparative reading of lyric poetry. If voice serves as a basis for reading lyrics, a discussion may include both works written to be read as well as those written to be performed. The disembodied voice is discussed as essential to lyric. When a person dies, vestiges of the body and identity survive through voice—in a person’s writing, recordings of him speaking, or in others’ memories of him speaking. The tale of Orpheus’s severed head still singing beyond his life, causing the land to respond and extending his song indefinitely, is the archetype of the lyric poet, who anticipates death through what this thesis calls a lyric death: the poet concentrates bodily and personal existence in voice and projects them into the future, while also looking backward at the past. The result is that the lyric’s staging of disembodied voices transforms space: bodies and places are contained in voice, and space offers images of Time.

If voice is crucial to lyric, then listening is as well. This thesis considers what happens when listening is the primary element in lyric. By studying listening-framed poetic speech, it explores the ontology of a listening-centered poetics. Chapter One provides a survey of pastoral lyrics and pastoral elegies that prominently feature listening, disembodied voices, and a keen sense of place dissolving into Time. Pastoral elegies feature a high degree of will and are driven by a need to diminish Silence: through immense labor, poetic speech produces forms of catharsis. Therefore pastoral elegies offer a vivid counterexample to listening poems: in a poetics of listening, will is present primarily in the decision to surrender will, to submit to what a poetic listener hears. The poetic listener does not attempt to diminish Silence but to attend to it, to listen closely to what is present in spite of him. This thesis considers two examples of such a poetics: in Chapter Two, John Keats’s nineteenth century poem “Ode to a Nightingale,” and in Chapter Three, Samuel Beckett’s twentieth century play “Krapp’s Last Tape.” In Keats’s poem, the listener seeks to move beyond confinement within the ravages of Time in order to remember Eternity. In Beckett’s play, the listener seeks to forget the ravages of Time in order to remember the lost time of his life. The two works have notably different and yet similar aspects.

This thesis concludes by mentioning poems that would deserve consideration in a more comprehensive discussion of lyric listening, and by considering future possibilities for poems of lyric listening. It proposes “Krapp’s Last Tape” as the potential beginning of a new lyric tradition, in which oral-aural performance elements of ancient lyric are given modem form. Lyric performances that incorporate new forms of technology may explore humanity’s rapidly changing conditions of memory, identity, voice, body, and Time.