The Function of Tone

  • Stephen Dobyns


one of our first questions when we pick up a poem is: What brought this poem into being? This is not nosiness on our part. Most poetry written over the past 200 years has tried to give the impression that it was driven into existence by forces impossible for the poet to resist. Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in a letter to his wife (June 24, 1907), “Works of art are indeed always products of having-been-in-danger, or having-gone-to-the-very-end in an experience, to where one can go no further … and the work of art, finally, is the … most valid possible expression of this uniqueness.”1 And Philip Larkin described the first stage of writing a poem as “when a man becomes obsessed with an emotional concept to such a degree that he is compelled to do something about it.”2 What he does is write a poem that attempts to re-create that same emotional concept in the reader.


Newspaper Article Unstressed Syllable Connotative Meaning Great Wing Emotional Concept 
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© Stephen Dobyns 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen Dobyns

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