A Conversation with Stephen Logan

In April of 2009, graduate editor Pete Newbon met with Dr Stephen Logan, a specialist in Romantic poetry who has carefully pondered the connections and tensions between poetry, pronunciation, identity, and criticism. In this conversation he reads from Wordsworth and offers some fresh and provocative ways of encountering his poetry.

Just below you can click on the link to listen to a conversation I had with Stephen Logan about Wordsworth's poetry, accents, identity, and reading. This conversation often moves quickly, from one text to another, and from Wordsworth to other poets, writers, reference resources, and other things besides. We hope you will find the conversation interesting; you may find it easier to follow if you begin by reading the notes below. At the bottom of this page you will find some suggestions for further reading on these topics, and some questions to help you think further about them.


Notes to Accompany Interview with Stephen Logan

  • 'Tintern Abbey': A blank-verse lyric poem, fully titled 'Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey on revisiting the banks of the Wye Valley during a tour, July 13, 1798', was composed by Wordsworth, and included as the last poem in the anthology 'Lyrical Ballads' (1798). The poem was composed on Wordsworth's second visit to the ruined medieval abbey on the banks of the river Wye, five years after his first visit, and on the anniversary of the fall of the Bastille at the commencement of the French Revolution.
  • Robert Burns (1759-1796): A Scottish poet who composed largely in a Scotch dialect. His most famous works include 'Auld Lang Syne', 'Red, Red Rose' and 'Tam O' Shanter.'
  • OED: The Oxford English Dictionary is a comprehensive dictionary of the English language, and is generally taken as the leading authoritative source regarding information about English words.
  • Edward Thomas (1878-1917): An Anglo-Welsh poet of the late nineteenth and early twentieth Century who died fighting in World War I.
  • Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881): A Scottish essayist, satirist and historian of the mid-Victorian period, who wrote various important anecdotes and commentaries upon Romantic writers.
  • Seamus Heaney (1939- ): An Irish poet, writer and lecturer who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995.
  • William Hazlitt (1778-1830): An English essayist, critic and philosopher who was a friend and associate of many Romantic writers and artists.
  • Rustic: A word that can be used to refer to country dwellers, often peasants, which denotes simplicity, lack of refinement or roughness.
  • Burr: 'A rough sounding of the letter r characteristic of the county of Northumberland, and found elsewhere as an individual peculiarity. Writers ignorant of phonology often confuse the Northumberland burr with the entirely different Scotch r, which is a lingual trill.' (OED)
  • Phonetics: 'The study and classification of speech sounds, esp. with regard to the physical aspects of their production.' (OED)
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822): A Romantic poet, who was a friend and collaborator of Lord Byron's.
  • George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824): A Romantic poet featured on this website.
  • 'Resolution and Independence': A poem by Wordsworth written in a Chaucerian rhyme scheme called Rime Royal. It is also known as 'The Leech-Gatherer', and was published in the anthology Poems Written in Two Volumes (1807). The poem was famously satirised by Lewis Carroll in Alice Through the Looking Glass (1871).
  • Half-Rhyme: Consonance on the final consonants of the words at line endings (so 'moon' could be a half-rhyme for 'stone').
  • Monophthong: A pure vowel sound, one whose articulation at both beginning and end is relatively fixed, and which does not glide up or down towards a new position of articulation.
  • Diphthong: A unitary vowel that changes quality during its pronunciation, or glides, with a smooth movement of the tongue from one articulation to another.
  • Full Rhyme: When the later part of the word or phrase is identical in sound to another.
  • Cadence: A fall in inflection of a speaker's voice, such as at the end of a sentence.
  • 'Lines Written in Early Spring': A poem by Wordsworth included in the second edition of Lyrical Ballads (1800).
  • 'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud': Also known as 'The Daffodils', this poem was inspired by a shared encounter with a view of the flowers by Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, and the poet drew upon his sister's account of the event in her journal to help his composition. It was published in 1807.
  • Hugh Kenner (1923-2003): A Canadian literary critic and professor.
  • Basil Bunting (1900-1985): A British Modernist poet, famous for recitations of his own work.
  • Edmund Spenser (1552-1599): A sixteenth-century English poet, esteemed by Wordsworth as one of the greatest poets of all time.
  • Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909): A poet of the Victorian era.

Further Reading

Jonathan Bate, Romantic Ecology: Wordsworth and the Environmental Tradition (London: Routledge, 1991).

Jonathan Bate, Song of the Earth (London: Picador, 2001).

Brennan O'Donnell, The Passion of Meter: A Study of Wordsworth's Metrical Art (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1995).

Hughes Sykes Davies, Wordsworth and the Worth of Words (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

Further Thinking

Stephen Logan encourages us to listen to poems, to think about how they sound, as we read them. This obviously has implications for every poem you might read. Can you think of any (by Wordsworth or not) that seem particularly enlivened by this sonic approach?

Some qualities of the Wordsworthian soundscape are regional ones. What difference does this make, if any, to how you read some of his great poems, which are acclaimed as national rather than local classics?

One Response to “A Conversation with Stephen Logan”

  1. Justin Barnard Says:

    Thank you for an interesting tape. I think Simon Armitage would be a strong candidate to play the part of Wordsworth in a dramatisation as his accent is so close, and not dissimilar facially either.

    Not sure about silence being the best back-drop for composition. Keats was comfortable composing in a place of social gathering, writing “as leaves to a tree.” Perhaps the sea of sound creates suggestions the poet is not aware of that help composition, although there are also sounds that are disruptive and do not help.

    Not sure about the idea that rhymes necessarily indicate how words were pronounced as throughout the history of poetry half rhymes have been used for all kinds of reasons – sometimes out of laziness, sometimes for deliberate effect. Can we deduce that Shakespeare pronounced “proved” and “loved” (sonnet) as a full rhyme, or Hardy “sees” and “mysteries” in Afterwards? Although Wilfred Owen formalised pararhyme as a notion the playful ear of the poet has always been at liberty to do wonderful things with dissonance. Nevertheless this is an interesting idea and one it would be interesting to pursue further, eg. see if it holds true against the recordings we have of Yeats who I have just gleaned from George’s Ghosts (Brenda Maddox)composed by setting out all his intended rhymes first and then filling in the gaps!

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