Many of the poets in the selection use a distinctive voice such as a father, a lover etc. Discuss the effects achieved by this approach in any two poems from the selection. Many poets have restrictions imposed upon them, due to the social and political standings of the period, and so they must create a speaker, or a voice in which they can speak through in order to convey their ideas subtly to the masses.
Percy Shelley writes in the late 18th and early 19th century, where literature was not allowed to speak out against social and political conformities and so Shelley employs the technique of using a speaker, in the case of Ozymandias two speakers, to voice his opinions of the government. The poem, originally written in competition with Horace Smith, contains a story (told by Ozymandias) within a story (told by the traveller) within a story (told by the speaker of the poem). And so, by using the various voices he can express whatever message he might wish to without actually seeming like saying it himself.
In Ozymandias, what Shelley actually says is that the fleeting power of man and his works are and will never be a match for time and nature. Another example of how a poet uses a distinctive voice to portray ideas and themes is the poem In Westminster Abbey by John Betjiman. In this poem Betjiman uses the voice of a distinctly upper class woman to, first poke fun at the upper class society of England then to make the reader laugh at the egotistical nature of the woman, then finally to make the reader realise that there is a little bit of this woman in all of us.
In both of the poems the poets create the effect of taking a jeer at humanity and the way in which humans are conditioned to think and act. Take Ozymandias as the first example of utilizing speaker to portray meaning. Shelley begins with first person narration of the poem, ‘I met a traveller from an antique land / Who said:’ By first setting it in the ‘antique land’ the author attempts to distance himself from anything he goes on to say about Ramses and his rule (this is important because Shelley is still talking in the first person).
Then Shelley goes on to change the speaker by starting the new line with ‘who said’ this in turn takes any of the criticism he may make off his head and onto that of the speaker in the poem (which is ultimately the reason the poets used speakers in their poems). The speaker then goes on to describe the fallen statue ‘half sunk’ with a ‘shattered visage’, this image of the broken down man, shattered and never able to be pieced together again represents how man’s arrogance is destroyed.
The importance here is that Shelley doesn’t out rightly mock the government himself but spoke through his speaker. The speaker describes the ruins in more detail and talks about the sculptor and his skills, telling us that the sculptor brought through time the darkness of the king. What is inscribed on the stone is then read, but spoken in the voice of Ozymandias himself, introducing a third speaker to the poem that has an arrogance that the poet may be trying to parallel with the government of his own society.
He says ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: / Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair’ and so Shelley sets up the image of a great king with a colossal power only to jump back to the second speaker and say ‘nothing beside remains’ showing that all the power of the king has been destroyed and only the works of the sculptor remain. Ultimately Shelley is criticising his own government and at the same time showing the power of time and nature and how it will conquer all of man’s works. Shelley finishes his poem with this image shown through ‘The lone and level sands stretch far away. ‘ Perhaps the sand is vaster than the empire is now.
So through the use of different speakers Shelley parallels them to different aspects of his society then picks those aspects apart through the characters and images in the poem, these are the effects Shelley achieves through the use of distinctive voices in the poem. John Betjiman is another poet who utilises a distinctive voice to mock society; he does this in his poem In Westminster Abbey. Betjiman’s distinctive voice is that of an upper class lady, who has a predisposition to thinking of herself as somewhat higher than God, ‘And if that is not to easy / We will pardon Thy Mistake’.
This lady is first portrayed to the reader as someone to be taken seriously especially as Betjiman begins his poem with ‘Let me take this other glove off’, an expression for getting down to business, also the gloves represent a higher class of lady, perhaps aristocracy. She then begins to talk to the lord in the second stanza, and here is where Betjiman begins to take apart this lady and in doing so he takes apart the upper class of England itself. The lady appears to have no respect for God’s laws, ‘bomb the Germans’, however by coming to talk to the Lord she thinks this will solve her problems.
The main problem though, is that in doing so she portrays herself and her class as being selfish, such as where she asks God to protect ‘One-eighty-nine Cadogan Square’ presumably the woman’s house. Perhaps the epitome of an upper class attitude is where she asks god to ‘protect the whites’ as if all were not equal in God’s eyes. As if the reader didn’t think this lady was a joke already, Betjiman goes on to make her list what England stands for, ‘class distinction, democracy and proper drains’ among others, which is completely absurd, whoever heard of England standing for such things, class distinction comes the closest to anything relevant.
Betjiman takes a crack at the upper classes’ view on religion, in that it is a means to satisfy the need, and that the woman is missing the meaning of her so-called faith, ‘Now I’ll come to Evening Service / Whensoever I have the time’, and going straight on to ask God to protect her money and assets, which is the opposite to what the bible teaches. Betjiman ends his poem with a very strong statement supporting his criticism of the upper classes ‘And now, dear Lord, I cannot wait / Because I have a luncheon date’, this statement re-enforces the selfishness of the upper classes and their attitude toward their religion.
This lady is a believable portrayal of the British affluence of the time in that her wards and attitudes contradict themselves and are severely misguided. Overall there is a disdain for the speaker inherent in the poem that seems to be directed at the lady’s indignant ignorance. In Westminster Abbey, John Betjiman shows the flaws of British upper class’s thinking and attitudes during World War One.
Whereas in Ozymandias, P. B. Shelley shows how the ignorance of man will always be conquered by time and the strength of nature. This is done in both poems through the use of a distinctive voice or speaker in the poem, ultimately taking any criticism the poet wishes to make and placing that subtly (or sometimes not) into the poem for the public to read. The effect created is that the poet is not saying these things himself, rather the speaker in the poem.