Ray's Introduction to Literature, Fall, 1998 Kate's   Last Updated Nov. 3, 1998
Lyric; Tone;
  L. Lee -- R. Hayden -- T. Roethke -- L.  Hugh -- G. Brooks 
General Questions
Online Discussion-- Ray's Class; Kate's Class
  • The most personal of poetic forms, lyric is usually a short but intense expression of personal feelings. 
  • Although it is originally sung to the music of a lyre, not all lyrics are to be sung.  Still, musical quality can be found in poems such as "I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud" and "I Ask my Mother to  Sing" (1986, p. 518).
  • Although it involves personal expressions, the speaker of a lyric is not necessarily the poet. 
  • The tone of a poem, like the tone of our speech, implies the speaker's attitude(s) towards the poem's subject.   The speaker's attitude can sometimes be subtly expressed, and we need to carefully study the poem's wording, rhythm and images to understand the tone. 
  • The tones can range from being ironic, neutral, ambiguous,  to being emotional and angry.
 Li-Young Lee   "I Ask my Mother to  Sing" (1986, p. 518)  
  1.  Where do we feel the speaker's attitude toward his mother and grandmother's singing?  In other words, how do we catch the tone of this poem--from the ideas and the rhythm of the poem? 
  2. Considering the oversea Chinese, the second-generation Chinese immigrants or even just the youngsters today that ou know, do you think Lee's attitude towards his mother and grandmother special?
  R. Hayden (1913 -1980) "Those Winter Sundays" (1962 p. 692) 
  1. What kind of emotion is expressed in this poem?  And how?  Pay attention to the variation of line length,  the use of repetition and the words such as "indifferently" "cold" and "blueblack cold." 
  Theodore Roethke (1908-1963)  "My Papa's Waltz" (1948 p. 603) 
  1. There can be different interpretations of the tone of this  poem, depending on how you explain the rhythm, as well as the words "like death," "not easy," "[hand] .. . battered on one knuckle," "still clinging to your shirt."
  Langston Hugh (1902-67)  "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" (1921 p. 761) 
  1. Rivers have been important throughout history. Why were the earliest known cities built along rivers? What were the rivers used for? What ancient cities, civilizations, and rivers are mentioned in the poem? Are these rivers significant to Africans and African-Americans? 
  2. The poem suggests a relationship between the speaker and the rivers. How does the speaker compare himself with rivers? 
  3. How does knowledge that Langston Hughes was an African-American help you to understand more about this poem?
  4. Why do you think Abraham Lincoln is mentioned in the poem? Why does the speaker say that he saw the "muddy bosom" of the Mississippi River "turn all golden in the sunset"? 

  5. This poem relies on a lot of repetition. The three words in the first line, for example, appear throughout the poem. Why do you think Hughes repeats those words? How does the repetition influence you as you read the poem? Why do you think the last line repeats the third line?
  Gwendolyn Brooks   "We Real Cool" (1960  p. 534)  
  1. This poem is a good example of how the speaker is not the poet.  Also, how the tone of a poem can be changed by different arrangement of the lines, or different readings. 
  2. In Report from Part One, G. Brooks comments on this poem: 
    1. The ending WE's in "We Real Cool" are tiny, wispy, weakly argumentative "Kilroy-is-here" announcements.  The boys have no accented sense of themselves, yet they are aware of a semidefined personal importance.  Say the "we" softly. (185) 
    Do you agree with her interpretation of the tone of the speakers (the seven pool players)?  Remember that emphasis can be placed by either putting a heavy stress on the word or making a pause before it.   
General Questions  (Some of the following questions are not easy to answer. You should think more, and avoid getting easy answers for them.) 
  1. There are some interesting aspects for comparison the five poems in this unit: 
    • three are written by Afro-American poets, one by a Chinese-American, and the fifth a while American.  Do these minorities share similar concerns or similar styles? 
    • In terms of family relationship, how is the son in "Those Winter Sunday" different from that in "I Ask My Mother to Sing," or that in "My Papa's Waltz"?  How are the differences shown in tone? 
    • How does each poem express the speaker's sense of his personal identity