Stephen Carden

Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

William McMahon

Degree Program

Department of English

Degree Type

Master of Arts


Various theorists have treated the problem of sound and sense in poetry. The influence of sound in poetry can be found both in the overall musical structure of a poem and in the internal sounds of rhythm and diction. Plato suggests that rhythm and harmony have a direct effect on man, and can establish either balance or disproportion within the soul. The debate whether sound determines sense or sense determines sound is rejected in favor of a third possibility: an interdependent relationship between sound and sense, an intrinsic formal structure, as the ideal governing the creation of poetry. Further, Aristotle proves to be quite close to Plato in suggesting a moral character to certain sounds. Poe, in emphasizing the distinction between poetry and prose, points to sound as the distinguishing characteristic of verse. Yeats stresses the rhythm of poetry in linking man with an ancient past. Eliot uses care in describing the function of music in poetry, but reaffirms its significance as interdependent with the meaning of the words. Stevens explores the relationship of music and poetry, and offers a rich theory that poetry is the embodiment in sound of a bridge between spirit and reality. The influence of free verse on Eliot and Stevens appears in their conversational tone, yet the sound of their poetry determines its value to a significant extent. This tracking of the ideas about sound and sense from Plato and Aristotle to Poe, Yeats, Eliot, and Stevens helps to clarify the nature and range of the problem.


English Language and Literature