Poetry: Speaker, Tone, and Irony

Poetry: Speakers and Tone
What is the “Speaker” of a Poem?
• The speaker in a poem is like the narrator in a
short story. Some speakers are virtually
indistinguishable from the poet, some are not.
Speaker =/= poet. It is, instead, a mask or
• Some speakers are fully developed characters,
and others are more of a mystery and reveal
themselves only through tantalizing hints.
• Learn more about speakers by reading the
section in your text book on p. 480.
"I'm Nobody! Who are you?" by
Emily Dickinson p. 480
• The book mentions that the speaker here
is at first "mischievous." Why? How does
the speaker come to be more complex as
the poem progresses?
• The poem inverts commonly held ideas
about fame. How?
• Does examining the speaker here help you
as a reader to get more out of the poem?
"My Grandmother Would Rock Quietly
and Hum" by Leonard Adame p. 482
• What words, what images reveal this
speakers tone, or attitude, toward his
grandmother and his heritage?
• This poem is also loaded with imagery.
(Descriptions that appeal to the senses.)
What images are striking to you? Are the
images symbolic of anything?
Woolworth Building, completed
"Negro" by Langston Hughes p. 484
• Who is the speaker here?
• What comparisons can you make to “My
Grandmother Would Rock Quietly and
Hum,” which has a very personal, individual
• What images caught your attention as you
read this poem?
A Relevant Quote from Dr. King
“Somebody told a lie one day. They couched it in
language. They made everything black ugly and evil.
Look in your dictionary and see the synonyms of
the word black. It's always something degrading
and low and sinister. Look at the word white. It's
always something pure, high, and clean.
But I want to get the language right tonight. I want
to get the language so right that everybody here
will cry out: Yes, I'm black! I'm proud of it! I'm black
and beautiful!”
- Martin Luther King Jr.
"In a Station on a Metro" by Ezra
Pound p. 536
• First, read the poem to yourself.
• List everything that you see “going on” in
the poem. What contrasts are created by
these two lines? What associations do you
have with the images and the settings?
• This poem is remarkable for its brevity. How
do you think that brevity contributes to the
effect of the poem?
“Suicide Note” by Janice Mirikitani
p. 488
• What patterns of imagery do you notice in
this poem? What do they tell you about how
the speaker views herself?
• What is the speaker’s attitude about her
parents? What reaction do you think the
audience is meant to have to this situation?
• What do you think about the "not good
enough" interruptions? Are they meant to be
read as part of the actual note? (Notice the
lack of capital letters and punctuation.)

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