In Other Words: Breaking the Monologue in Whitman, Williams and Hughes

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4 Scopus citations


One important aspect of the 'Whitman tradition' in American poetry is its breaking of the monologic hegemony of the lyric voice. Focusing on this aspect necessarily assumes that a poem establishes a 'fictional context of utterance', particularly a 'complex or shifting discourse situation ... [which]may involve variations in deictic centre' (Semino, 1995: 145). The resulting dialogic interplay of voices stands at the very centre of Walt Whitman's poem 'Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking', William Carlos Williams's 'The Desert Music' and Langston Hughes's 'Cultural Exchange'. The present discussion of dialogic interplay in the lyric text turns naturally to Bakhtin's concept of heteroglossia. Making use of the cline of speech presentation developed by Leech and Short (1981), Bakhtin's categories of 'compositional-stylistic unities' will be elaborated upon: direct authorial literary-artistic narration; the stylistically individualized speech of characters; and incorporated genres. In 'Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking' there is an interplay of voices between boy, bird and sea, within a narrative frame related by the adult and child lyric speakers. Within the more general conversation in 'The Desert Music' there is an interplay of the lyric speaker's own social and poetic selves, while in 'Cultural Exchange' dialogic interplay is highlighted in the use Hughes makes of the 'intimidating margins of silence' (Culler, 1975: 161) which conventionally surround a lyric text, filling them with musical notations that comment on the lyric voice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-41
Number of pages17
JournalLanguage and Literature
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2000


  • Bakhtin
  • Cultural Exchange
  • Heteroglossia
  • Hughes, Langston
  • Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking
  • Speech and thought presentation
  • The Desert Music
  • Whitman, Walt
  • Williams, William Carlos

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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