Sound and the Romantic ear
My research recovers the background for understanding poetic sound, both as it appeared in theory—that is, in physiology and philosophy of mind—and as it occurred in practice in scenes of recitation and audition during the Romantic period. This background reveals William Wordsworth’s association of the power of sound with attention and the peculiar power of poetry to move, direct, or drive the reader’s body and mind. My study informs our understanding of the Romantic-era conception of the influence of sound on attention and influences how we understand the nature of the social charge of Wordsworth’s major works. In this dissertation, I analyze Wordsworth’s poetry through the framework of acoustics and psychoacoustics and rely on select theoretical underpinnings from the history of science, modern cognitive poetics, and historical English linguistics to further my claims. I also build upon post-Enlightenment theories of attention and distraction and modern-day cognitive science and psychophysics. I attempt in my work to move toward experiencing poems through aural modes, as others experienced them in the Romantic period as Wordsworth composed, recited, and shared them. Studying Wordsworth’s poetry in this way reveals driving rhythms through underlying acoustical structures, and these rhythms synchronize with biological rhythms of readers of verse and result in the direction and redirection of attention. In constructing this theory, I consider possibilities for Wordsworth’s live delivery, theorize that he undertook both a pedagogical and bardic role as a poet in the social sphere, and envision readers he might have imagined. I suggest that Wordsworth reimagined notions of idiocy as refined sensibility and anticipated an inclusive interpretive community for poetry.