Hearkening to the Voices of Women

  • Anya Taylor


In his aesthetic criticism, Coleridge divides the art of language into “poetry of the ear, or music; and poetry of the eye.” This distinction between eye and ear also involves the location of personhood in other people: the eye sees the face, which could be blank or angry and therefore unreliable or repugnant, and the ear hears the voice, which comes from within the other person and reverberates with breath and heart beat. Throughout Coleridge’s writings, gazing and listening—faces and voices—alternate. Particularly in his efforts to understand women as persons, Coleridge makes a significant aesthetic and ethical transition when he shifts from seeing women to hearing them.1 He consciously learns to listen when he tells Thelwall, “I am an immense favorite, for I pun, conundrumize, listen and dance” (Feb. 6, 1797; CL 1, 308). By underlining the word “listen” he points to the peculiarity of his doing so and to his deliberate intention to cultivate that skill. He listens to women’s voices in their poems and in their singing, and comes to associate music with women.


Line Compose Literary Woman Music World Opera Singer Orchestral Music 
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  1. 1.
    SWF 1, 358. This is the movement from “Behold!” to “Listen!” to apply the later 1805 formulation in Wordsworth’s “The Solitary Reaper” and to anticipate John Hollanders division of poetry in Vision and Resonance: Two Senses of Poetic Form (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Jonathan Ree, I See a Voice: Deafness, Language and the Senses—A Philosophical History (New York: Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt, 1999), p. 61. Ree quotes Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, 401: “‘It is primarily through the voice that people make known their inwardness, for they put into it what they are.’” The voice objectifies subjectivity (p. 60). I thank Professor Elisabeth Gitter for this reference.Google Scholar
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    Amanda Foreman, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (New York: Random House, 1988).Google Scholar
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    Betsy Bolton, Women, Nationalism, and the Romantic Stage, pp. 30–39, 45–48, describes the focus on Georgiana’s sexuality as a way of undermining her intelligence.Google Scholar
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    Duncan Wu, ed., Romantic Women Poets: An Anthology (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1997), p. 176, ll. 93–96.Google Scholar
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    For authenticating emotion by means of quotations, see Adela Pinch, Strange Fits of Passion: Epistemologies of Emotion, Hume to Austen (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1996), p. 169.Google Scholar
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    Iain McCalman, ed., The Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001) has done a great service to the field in enumerating these divas.Google Scholar
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    Gary Schmidgall, Shakespeare and Opera (New York: Oxford University, Press, 1990), pp. 34, 20, 39. See Elisabeth Bronfen, “‘Lasciatemi Morir’: Representations of the Diva’s Swan Song,” MLQ 53, 4.Google Scholar
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    Amanda Eubanks Winkler, “Madness and the Prophetic Voice: Musical Prognostication on the Late Seventeenth-Century English Stage” (delivered at NEASECS conference 2002), cites a well-known song by Henry Purcell, “Beneath a poplar’s shadow” (1702), where the diva sings “I swell … and am bigger, I swell….,” with trilling between words. Coleridge tells his interlocutors (July 6, 1833), “I like Beethoven and Mozart…. And I love Purcell” (TT 2, 244).Google Scholar
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    In the version of the poem printed in the Morning Post, Sept. 24, 1799, three additional stanzas of irregular length turn this accomplished music toward political activism, marching together “with trump and timbrel clang, and popular shout, / To celebrate the shame and absolute rout,” perhaps, E. H. Coleridge conjectures, at the battle of Novi over Napoleon’s troops led by Joubert. See Ernest Hartley Coleridge, ed., The Poems (London: Oxford University Press, 1960), pp. 324–325.Google Scholar
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© Anya Taylor 2005

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  • Anya Taylor

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