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"Perchance my hand may touch the lyre": orality and textuality in nineteenth-century deaf poetry.

In his book The Lost Senses: Deafness and Blindness (1845), deaf (1 British writer and missionary John Kitto declares that deaf people cannot write poetry. Kitto argues, "For want of hearing others speak, it is next to impossible that [a deaf person] should have that knowledge of quantity and rhyme which is essential to harmonious verse." (2) However, after explaining this personal disqualification, Kitto provides specimens of his own verse to demonstrate his attempt at "the tuneful art" (1:171). Kitto suggests that "if the reader can discover the formal errors-the bad rhymes--the halting, hopping, stumping feet-which I am unable to detect, then my proposition is demonstrated; but if he can make no such discoveries, it must then be admitted with some qualification" (1:171). While Kitto's poetry provides evidence of his poetic ability, his preface exposes his anxieties about writing in a genre that he believed required the ability to hear. Kitto's strange vacillation between declaring the impossibility of a deaf poet and demonstrating the viability of his own poetry reflects the complicated position inhabited by a nineteenth-century deaf poet writing in English.

Kitto, like all other nineteenth-century poets, both hearing and deaf, was facing a cultural climate that linked written poetry with orality, especially in terms of formal features including rhythm and rhyme. Kitto was not the only deaf poet who felt ambivalent about participating in a genre tied to sound and speech: about a dozen American and British deaf poets, who used signed languages or fingerspelling to communicate, published one or more volumes of work during the Victorian period. These deaf poets often acknowledged that their position was contradictory in a cultural paradigm that invested poetry with a special relationship to aurality and orality. This essay will investigate how these nineteenth-century deaf poets balanced cultural beliefs about the primacy of sound to poetry with their own desire to sever hearing ability from poetic ability and will explore what this tension reveals about nineteenth-century perceptions of the relation between sound and poetry. By considering both the formal conventionalism and the thematic radicalism of their constructions of sound in poetry, I will argue that these poets mobilized the tension between sound and deafness. This essay will posit that nineteenth-century deaf poets ambivalently maintained an idea of "vocality" in their poetry while underscoring how that imagined "voice" was a silent construct of print. My argument about nineteenth-century deaf poetry also intervenes in contemporary critical conversations about sound in poetry because deaf poetry disrupts any model of poetry that imagines sound as essential to poetic craft and consumption.

Despite the potential barriers to deaf poetic production, poetry was a valued element of nineteenth-century deaf culture. Important events in the deaf community, including deaf school graduations, for instance, were commemorated with poems written and signed by pupils. (3) Furthermore, the vast network of periodicals created by and for deaf people, including the widely circulated deaf school newspapers known as the Little Paper Family, (4) published poetry by deaf writers in monthly poetry columns. The nineteenth-century poets I will examine were all heavily involved with this culture of deaf poetry. They constitute what I will propose is the canon of nineteenth-century deaf poetry in English from the 1830s to the 1890s. While these poets had diverse class, gender, national, racial, educational, audiological, and historical experiences, in this essay I focus on the one important quality they shared: a concern that their deafness might preclude poetic achievement. (5) For example, early poets like Kitto (1804-1854) (6) and American poets John Burnet (1808-1874) (7) and James Nack (1809-1879) (8) did not have deaf forebears to validate their desire to write poetry. As pioneers in the genre of deaf poetry, they wrestled with the relevance of their deafness to their compositions of rhythm and rhyme.

However, as the century wore on, gains were made in deaf education and more deaf people read, wrote, and published poetry. For example, British poet William Henry Simpson (n.d.) published his own book of poetry in 1858 to correct Kitto's "erroneous impression" that deaf people could not write poetry (p. xii). (9) Later American poets including Amos Draper (1845-1917), (10) Mary Toles Peet (1836-1901), (11) Laura Redden Searing (1840-1923), (12) Angie Fuller Fischer (1841-1925), (13) and John Carlin (1813-1891) (14) were involved to varying degrees with the National Deaf-Mute College in Washington D.C. They would have been familiar not only with the work of earlier deaf poets like Burnet, Nack, and Kitto but also with their published and unpublished peers at the college. In fact, as E. M. Gallaudet, the leading American educator of deaf people noted: "Among the students of the College for Deaf-Mutes at Washington, compositions in verse are not uncommon" (p. 593). In an 1884 article for Harper's magazine on the "Poetry of the Deaf," Gallaudet asserts that despite cultural skepticism about deaf poetic ability, "the deaf, in no inconsiderable numbers, have essayed to mount on the wing of poetic expression" (p. 588). In this article, Gallaudet collected the work of many of these poets in order to refute Kitto and validate deaf poetic achievement. Gallaudet's transatlantic approach to the issue of deaf poetry informs my own. This essay will discuss British and North American deaf poets collectively in acknowledgement of the fact that there was marked continuity in British and North American deaf cultures and that deaf people often felt as though they shared more in common with deaf people in other countries than with hearing people in their own (including their educational interests, mode of language, and visual orientation to the world). (15)

While deaf poets were celebrated in British and North American Deaf communities, they understood that they faced a cultural definition of poetry that was rooted in orality. Searing, for example, described hearing audiences' preconceptions about deaf poets, most notably in her prose-poem "The Realm of Singing: An Autobiographical Allegory" (c. 1870). Searing suspected that readers maligned her poetry once they discovered she was deaf. The allegory of the work concerns a bird whose "crippled" wings prevent her from alighting upon the "tree of poetry" in the "Realm of Singing." Searing invokes the oral connotations of poetry in naming this world the "Realm of Singing." However, Searing also explicitly decouples the bird's physical disability from its ability to sing. That is, allegorically, the bird's crippled wings are as unrelated to poetry as is the deafness of the poet. Instead, the bird's crippled wings only prevent her from alighting on the "tree of poetry" and thereby gaining recognition:

"I think I can sing a little," she said, and so she hopped painfully upon the very lowest twig and began:
 How shall a bird on a crippled wing
 Ever get up into the sky?
 Is it not better to cease to sing--
 To droop and to die?

 There are so many before me there,
 With songs so loud and long and sweet,
 They startle the passer unaware--
 I am at his feet!

 And though I sing with a quivering breast
 And a dewy eye and a swelling throat;
 My heart so close to the thorn is pressed,
 That I spoil each note.
 And if ever I sing a song,
 Sweet of the sweet and true of the true--
 All of it's drowned by the birds ere long,
 Up in the blue.

 O, for one hour of rapturous strength!
 O, to sing one song in the sky!
 High over all the birds at length--
 Then I could die! (16)

The poem repeatedly emphasizes that the "crippled" bird sings as skillfully as the other birds. The real challenge facing Searing's bird--and all nineteenth- century deaf poets-is not physical disability but rather the prejudices of hearing people about the relation between physical disability and poetry. Those who pass by the "crippled" bird admire her singing until they spot her wings and reply:

What have we here? A crippled bird that tries to sing? Such a thing was never heard of before. It is impossible for her to sing correctly under such circumstances and we were certainly mistaken in thinking that there was anything in such songs. Our ears have deceived us. (Searing, p. 208)

By emphasizing that the listeners' "ears" have deceived them, Searing implicates hearing audiences in the mistaken belief that deaf people cannot write poetry. In overvaluing their own ability to hear, this hearing audience underestimates deaf people. Searing argues that her poetic ability becomes suspicious only after her deafness is discovered, which reveals that ideology, not evidence, informs skepticism about deaf poetry.

Editors who published deaf poetry also consistently underscored its apparent impossibility. When published for hearing audiences, rather than in deaf-specific publications, these poets were shackled to the identity of "deaf poet"--a commodity and curiosity-rather than a poet who was deaf. For instance, Nack's "Spring is Coming"--a poem that makes repeated reference to the sounds of spring including "birds ... chirping" and "insects humming"-- was published in 1845 by the New York Tribune. (17) The paper attributed the poem to "Mr. Nack who is deaf and dumb since his childhood." This foregrounding of Nack's deafness suggests the unfortunate possibility that his deafness was as important to the publication of his poetry as his poetic skill. Indeed, even journals devoted to deaf issues like the American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb highlighted the contrast between the deafness of the poet and the oral resonances of the genre. Carlin's poem, "The Mute's Lament," was published in the first number of the Annals in 1847 with a lengthy editor's preface about the "special surprise" excited by a poet born deaf. The editor declares that "we should almost as soon expect a man born blind to become a landscape painter, as one born deaf to produce poetry of even tolerable merit." (18) After assuring readers that Carlin's poem had not been edited, he emphasizes that while "The Mute's Lament" is not rhymed, Carlin frequently wrote in regular rhyme and meter. Carlin's ability to master the apparently sound-based elements of poetry like rhythm and rhyme was essential to establishing his poetic credibility.

Like Carlin, Kitto's authority as a poet depended on his use of the formal poetic features traditionally tied to sound. However, Kitto's self-assessment of his "bad rhymes" and "halting, hopping, stumping feet" is entirely inaccurate; or, as Gallaudet declares in his Harper's article, "Kitto's poetry is better than his reasoning" (p. 595). Kitto skillfully manipulates rhyme and meter in his poetry. For example, his poem "Mary," which describes how both his visual acumen and the communicative capabilities of his wife's eyes compensate for his deafness, is roughly iambic. In a stanza describing how deafness complicates social interactions, Kitto mourns the loss of exposure to new ideas:
 True, that the human voice divine
 Falls not on this cold sense of mine;
 And that brisk commercing of thought
 Which brings home rich returns, all fraught
 With ripe ideas--points of view
 Varied, and beautiful, and new,
 Is lost, is dead, in this lone state
 Where feelings sicken, thoughts stagnate. (ll. 66-73)

The stanza deviates most strikingly from its regular rhythm in line seventy. This irregular line, punctuated with a dash, describes the "ripe ideas" and "points of view" that the "speaker" (19) misses. His desire for variety is therefore mirrored in the metrical singularity of that line, which diverges markedly from the loose pattern of the rest of the stanza.

While Kitto experimented with various forms of poetry, many deaf poets crafted works that adhered to standard patterns of rhyme and meter. Draper, for instance, wrote a Petrarchan sonnet titled "Memories of Sound":
 They are like one who shuts his eyes to dream
 Of some bright vista in his fading past;
 And suddenly the faces that were lost
 In long forgetfulness before him seem--
 Th'uplifted brow, the love-lit eyes whose beam
 Could ever o'er his soul a radiance cast,
 Numberless charms that long ago have askt
 The homage of his fresh young life's esteem;
 For sometimes, from the silence that they bear,
 Well up the tones that erst formed half their joys--
 A strain of music floats to the dull ear,
 Or low, melodious murmur of a voice,

and hearing were often constructed as integral to cultural participation and even to human identity. (4l) The most striking example of this phonocentrism in action was the largely successful Oralist movement in Europe and North America. As I noted, this nineteenth-century movement, comprised mainly of hearing people, usually educators, doctors, and parents of deaf children, aimed to eradicate the use of signed languages among deaf people in favor of lip-reading and speech. Oralists argued that signed languages were inferior to spoken languages because they incorrectly believed that signed languages were more concrete, iconic, and primitive than spoken languages. (42) As I have argued elsewhere, each of these nineteenth-century poets faced these Oralist incursions into their lives and responded in various ways including defending the use of signed languages in their poetry. (43)

Because these deaf poets operated in a culture that celebrated speech and denied them their language of signs, nineteenth-century deaf poetry is a perfect forum for questioning the hegemony of hearing and speech. Sterne's criticism of the construction of "hearing (and, by extension, speech) as manifesting a kind of pure interiority" (p. 15) is useful in interrogating a particular model of poetry that imagines the poem as an unmediated transcription of a poet's experience of the world. Sounds-unheard poetry highlights the fact that describing sound in poetry does not require the ability to hear. Poets-hearing and deaf-write about sound according to the conventions of poetic language rather than according to their experiences with hearing. The paradox of these sounds-unheard poems foregrounds how sensory information is constrained by discourse and processed through language. Indeed, the poets' achievement of the seemingly impossible-that is, describing sounds they have never experienced aurally-challenges the importance of the sense of hearing to poetry. While deaf poets do not have access to the sounds of words, they do have access to the words of sound.

Furthermore, the frequent references to birdsong, music, and wind in these sounds-unheard poems foreground the importance of poetic tropes: these are all conventional figures of lyric address. Deaf poets are not necessarily referencing the audible sensory experience of birdsong or wind but instead the metaphorical valence of these objects. (44) The most famous nineteenth-century incarnation of birdsong is, of course, John Keats's "Ode to a Nightingale," which, interestingly, is often prefaced by the assertion that it was directly inspired by Keats's delight in an actual bird's song. (45) This biographical fact, with its insistence on the inspirational powers of sound for aesthetic production, seems to be essential to the framing of the poem. Later in the nineteenth century, various Victorian poets, separated by decade, gender, and style, also use these conventional markers of lyric address. To take a few examples, Tennyson replicates this construction of the poet as the fitting interlocutor of birdsong in "The Poet's Mind" where, compared to others' "dull" ears (l. 35), poets have special access to the sounds of nature including "merry bird chants" (l. 22). (46) Christina Rossetti invokes Keats's nightingale in "Song." Matthew Arnold also writes of nightingales in "To Marguerite-Continued" and of wind in "Dover Beach." In "Music: An Ode," Swinburne compares music to "birds whose note / bade man's soul quicken and leap to light" (11. 26-27). (47) Again and again, lyres and harps, birds and breezes appear in the sonic space of nineteenth-century poetry. By invoking these same markers of lyric poetry without actually being able to hear them, deaf poets illuminate the fact that nineteenth-century poetry-in this case, a particular Romantically influenced lyric poetry--relies upon previous incarnations of poetry and figurative language even as it constructs itself as a product of the immediate impress of the senses. Indeed, by revealing that deafness does not preclude sound description, these poets suggest an alternative, discursively based understanding of the role of sound in poetry.

Deaf poets extend this understanding of the textuality and conventionality of sound to the "voice" of a poem. That is, deaf poetry relegates the orality that appears so frequently in the sounds-unheard genre to a product, rather than the source, of writing. These deaf poets thereby affirm Prins, Tucker, and Kreilkamp's understandings of how writing can produce a sense of vocality. For example, Kitto subsumes the various sounds of nature and music in his poem "Mary," including the ubiquitous nightingale, into the fraught concept of voice:
 And so beneath o'ershadowing trees,
 I've heard leaves rustle in the breeze,
 Which brought me the melodious tale
 Of all the vocal nightingale.
 Or else the cushat's coo of pride
 Over his new mated bride;Yes:
 I have heard thee-Nature, thee,
 In all thy thousand voices speak,
 Which now are silent all to me. (11. 45-53).

Not only does Kitto attribute a "voice" to the nightingale, but he also categorizes the entire sonic register of the poem as Nature's "thousand voices." Kitto, who became deaf at the age of twelve, uses writing to describe sounds he can no longer hear and then to name these sounds as "voice." In "Thoughts on Music," American poet Mary Toles Peet also surveys the sounds around her in service of a higher "voice" that encapsulates all sounds:
 And then they tell of the sounds which come
 Afar from the sea's deep caves,
 Of the voice of the wind which sighs among
 Old oceans' towering waves;
 And the wild, deep music, which comes up
 From the breaker's dashing roar
 And the storm cloud's voice, when, as in wrath,
 His torrents madly pour. (11. 9-16; pp. 239-240)

Peet's stanzas list various sounds she cannot hear such as the "lark's glad trill" (1. 19) and "the evening zephyr's notes" (1. 30), in a progression toward the idea that within all these sounds, which she calls "Nature's thousand tones" (1.39), there echoes one "voice," presumably the voice of God (1. 38).

This cacophony of orality appears frequently in sounds-unheard poetry, from references to human voices in most of the poems to describing the "storm cloud's voice" (Peet, "Thoughts," 1. 15) and the "woodlands, vocal with merry tones" (Carlin, "The Mute's Lament," 11. 8-9). In Simpson's "Recollections of Hearing" (Daydreams), the "speaker" asserts, "nature now remains to me / comparatively dumb" (11.51-52). In the genre of sounds-unheard poetry, nonvocal sounds are transformed, through the writing of the poem, into orality. Voices, animate and inanimate, dominate the imagined sound landscape of these poems thereby highlighting both the poet's thematic alienation from an omnipresent orality and his or her interest in the formal intersection between orality and written poetry. The common construction of written poetry as a secondary product of an original bardic orality, then, cannot incorporate absurd poetry, which is created by poets who sign rather than speak. Because these poems-in their thematic treatments of speaking mutes and sounds unheard--render a textual rather than audible voice into print, nineteenth- century deaf poetry simultaneously conforms to, and displaces, the authority of orality in written poetry. These poets were constrained by both the cultural ideology that disparaged those who did not speak and the literary ideology that tied poetry to orality. While absurd poetry strained against this generic restriction by replacing the voice with writing and emphasizing poetry's accessibility to deaf people, it nevertheless remained hedged in by the cultural power of orality in its adherence to rigid schemes of rhythm and rhyme. However, this very tension at the core of deaf poetry subversively reveals that the "voice" of a poem is usually metaphorical, and this metaphor is as equally available to a deaf poet as to a hearing poet.

While nineteenth-century deaf poets could not entirely escape poetry's generic tie to orality, they created a position for themselves in the landscape of nineteenth-century poetry by calling their writing "speech." Indeed, at the center of every absurd poem there is a celebration of writing and an assertion of a deaf person's right to poetry. For example, in "The Castle of Silence," (48) Peet's "speaker" humbly approaches the "shrine" of the "radiant muse of song":
 Low bending at thy shrine I come,
 O radiant muse of song!
 And though no sound my voice may wake,
 No low deep tone the echoes break
 That tremble round thy throne.
 Perchance my hand may touch the lyre,
 And bid some chord to thrill,
 And though the minstrel's home-land be
 The realm of silence, still may she
 Bring soul-gifts, at thy will. (11. 1-10, italics in original).

Peet maintains the alignment of song and poetry--Kitto's notion of a "tuneful art--by understanding poetry s muse as the muse of song and invoking the chords of the metaphorical lyre of lyric poetry. She does, however, mobilize that metaphor to validate deaf poetry. Peet's "speaker" replaces the poetic voice with her hand strumming the lyre. Her hand, with its access to both writing and signing, thereby becomes the instrument of poetic creation. Though she dwells in the "realm of silence," Peet asserts her right to lyric poetry through writing and signing.

Peet's privileging of her hand as that which connects her to the lyric tradition is even more suggestive in the context of the performance history of this poem. Peet presented "The Castle of Silence" in sign language for an audience of hearing and deaf people at the 1859 closing exercises of the New York Institution of the Deaf and Dumb, from which she had graduated six years earlier. A reporter for the New York Times in attendance applauded Peet's "muse" and declared that her words were fitted together ... euphomously." (49) While the poem may have been recited orally or provided in print alongside Peet's signing for non-signing members of the audience, Peet produced and disseminated her poem in sign. This moment where Peer silently signs her "euphonious" poem--a strictly rhymed apologia for silent deaf poetry--embodies the central tension of nineteenth-century deaf poetry. Each of these poets vacillates between adherence to, and subversion of, the authority of the voice in nineteenth-century English poetry. On one hand, these poets typically conformed to conventional schemes of rhythm and rhyme in order to prove their literary capabilities. However, these poets also challenged the alignment of poetry and sound through emphasizing the apparent contradictions of deaf poetry. This simultaneous formal capitulation and thematic resistance to the aural dimensions of poetry in the previously unexplored canon of deaf poetry offers a new perspective on the relation between sound and poetry. Nineteenth-century deaf poetry insistently places writing, and even signing, rather than speech, at the center of poetic production and reception.

Nineteenth-century deaf poetry provides a unique and productive lens through which to consider issues of voice, sound, and textuality in Victorian poetry because its creators were oppressed by a cultural reverence for the voice. Absurd poetry also illuminates the limitations of defining poetry primarily through features of orality and aurality. For deaf poets, poetry is not a "tuneful art." (50) Through their use of the sounds-unheard theme and of the speaking mute figure, these deaf poets exploited the sound-based theory of poetry to highlight the very written-ness--the very absence of speech--that characterized all nineteenth-century poetry. In its re-imagining of the relationship between sound and text, in its insistence on written texts without corresponding sensory experiences of sound, and in its celebration of the possibilities of writing, deaf poetry provides one more avenue for complicating our critical understanding of the locations where writing and speaking meet and where bodies and texts intersect.


I am grateful to Maggie Berg, Laura Cardiff, Eric Carlson, Mary Wilson Carpenter, Fiona Coil, Christopher Keep, Sarah Krotz, Tara MacDonald, Laura Murray and the anonymous reviewers of this essay for their generous feedback on earlier versions of this essay.


(1) It has been standard practice in Deaf Studies to use "deaf" with a lowercase d when referring to the audiological condition of deafness and "Deaf" with an uppercase D when referring to Deaf culture and to those deaf people who identify with a Deaf community and use a signed language. However, some Deaf Studies critics argue that this distinction oversimplifies the range of identity positions available to deaf/Deaf people. Furthermore, there may be historical problems with assigning nineteenth- century deaf people one of these designations. While all the deaf poets in this article used signed languages to some degree, some of them, including, for example, John Kitto may not have self-identified with the Deaf community. Because the d/D practice cannot address the complexities of nineteenth-century deaf identities, I use the term "deaf" in this article.

(2) John Kitto, The Lost Senses (Edinburgh, [1845]), 1.168.

(3) Laura Redden Searing publicly signed her own poem "A Farewell" at her 1858 graduation from the Missouri School for the Deaf (Judy Yaeger Jones and Jane E. Vallier, eds., Sweet Bells Jangled: Laura Redden Searing, a Deaf Poet Restored [Washington D.C.: Gallaudet Univ. Press, 2003], p. 29). There are many reports of deaf people signing their own or other people's poetry at the public exhibitions of deaf schools or at graduation exercises. Another example appears in the New York Times of June 27, 1872. At the closing exercises of the New York institution, a deaf student signed Oliver Wendell Holmes's "The Voiceless." The reporter describes the sentimental performance in detail and then writes that the young signer exited the stage to "plaudits [that] were almost deafening in vehemence" ("Our Deaf Mutes," New York Times, June 27, 1872).

(4) "The Little Papers," or the "Little Paper Family," refers to the newspapers published by American residential deaf schools. These papers, as John Vickrey Van Cleve and Barry Crouch note, were "ubiquitous" by the end of the nineteenth century (John Vickrey Van Cleve and Barry A. Crouch, A Place of their Own: Creating the Deaf Community in America [Washington, DC: Gallaudet Univ. Press, 1989], p. 98). There were also various journals including The British Deaf-Mute and the American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb that served deaf communities and deaf educators. Most American deaf schools trained their students in printing (in part because it was a writing-focused practice that took place in very noisy printshops), which led to the nineteenth-century proliferation of deaf-authored and printed periodicals.

(5) While my attempt to address the breadth of this canon prevents me from detailing each poet's particular biographical context, I want to underscore that there are, of course, important differences in their identities, their attitudes towards their own deafness, and their use of signed languages. For instance, Laura Redden Searing's gender and deafness were significant to the publication and reception of her work. She published under the pseudonym Howard Glyndon in both her journalism and poetry though a rival newspaper eventually revealed that Searing was actually a deaf woman. For more of Searing's biography and the relevance of gender to her work, see Jones and Vallier.

(6) John Kitto was deafened by a fall from a ladder at the age of twelve. Born to a working class family in Plymouth, Kitto struggled financially and then educated himself, eventually becoming a noted biblical scholar. He traveled to the Middle East on missionary trips and wrote about his experiences in his travel writing. He also supported his family entirely through his writing, publishing many essays and books including, notably, his autobiography The Lost Senses (1845).

(7) John Robertson Burnet, born in New Jersey, became deaf at 8 years of age. He did not become fluent in sign language, however, until he was twenty-one. He worked at newspapers, deaf schools, and his own farm. His book Tales of the Deaf and Dumb, with Miscellaneous Poems (1835) contained fiction, poetry, and non-fictional accounts of deafness. The book sold well enough for him to "clear his grandfather's debts and assume control of the [family] farm" (John Lee Clark, Deaf American Poetry: An Anthology [Washington, DC: Gallaudet Univ. Press, 2009], pp. 9-10).

(8) James Nack also became deaf at the age of 8. He was "the first deaf American to publish a book," The Legend of the Rock and Other Poems, which, Christopher Krentz notes, "created a stir in literary New York." For more on nineteenth-century American deaf poets, see Christopher Krentz, Writing Deafness: The Hearing Line in Nineteenth- Century American Literature (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2007). I make an argument similar to Krentz's about James Nack's poetry. Krentz comments: "Written largely in the Romantic style of Lord Byron, the sixty-eight poems in The Legend of the Rock may strike today's readers as dated and conventional, but that conformity helped to give them their power when they first appeared.... The New York Critic praised the musical quality of Nack's verse while another commentator wondered how Nack, as a deaf person 'cut off from society, could write so well about human emotions (Lang, Deaf Persons, p. 270)" (Krentz, p. 50). Altogether Nack published four volumes of literary work (Clark, p. 25).

(9) William Henry Simpson lost his hearing as a boy and then attended the Old Kent Road School for the Deaf and Dumb in London, where he later became a teacher. Gallaudet notes that Simpson's poem "Lines on Reading the Narrative of Frederick Douglass, an Escaped American Slave" "was widely quoted in the newspapers at the time of its publication" (E. M. Gallaudet, "The Poetry of the Deaf," Harper's New Monthly Magazine 68, no. 406 [March 1884]: 596). Simpson published a book, Daydreams of the Deaf, in 1858.

(10) Amos Draper, who became deaf as a child and was one of the first graduates of the National Deaf-Mute College in Washington, D.C. (Carol Padden and Tom Humphries, Inside Deaf Culture [Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 2005], p. 60), later became a professor there (Gallaudet, p. 590).

(11) Mary Toles Peet became deaf at the age of 13 and attended the New York Institution for the Deaf and Dumb. She was involved with the school for most of her life since her husband became its principal. During her life she published her poetry in deaf periodicals and it was only after her death that Peet's daughter published a volume of her poetry (Clark, pp. 42-43).

(12) Laura Redden Searing attended the Missouri School for the Deaf and after graduating became a journalist and a civil war correspondent for the St. Louis Republican. Her first book, published in 1864, was a collection of war poems called Idyls of Battle and Poems of the Rebellion. She also published poems in a variety of periodicals and released multiple volumes of poetry: Songs From Secret Chambers (1874), Of El Dorado (1897), Echoes of Other Days (1921) (Jones and Vallier, pp. 1-14). Krentz calls Searing "arguably the most successful deaf writer in America during the century" (p. 167).

(13) Angie A. (or Angeline) Fuller Fischer attended the Illinois school of the Deaf. Her collection of poetry, The Venture, was published in 1883 and was very favorably reviewed; one reviewer, for instance, wrote "Hearing no sound, she sings with faultless rhythm and pleasing euphony" (Harry G. Lang and Barbara Meath-Lang, Deaf Persons in the Arts and Sciences: A Biographical Dictionary [Connecticut: Greenwood, 1995], p. 117). She was "the leading feminist in the American Deaf community" of her day advocating for deaf women's participation in associations and the national deaf-mute college (Lang, p. 117).

(14) John Carlin was born deaf in Philadelphia to a poor family. He attended the Pennsylvania school for the deaf and worked as a visual artist. He published his poetry in periodicals. Krentz notes that "he went on to become one of the most accomplished deaf Americans of the period as a painter, writer, sculptor, acquaintance of hearing leaders like Horace Greeley and William Seward, and as an orator whose sign language presentations were in demand at deaf events" (p. 139).

(15) Deaf Britons and North Americans shared strategies at Deaf conferences, reported each other's news in their periodicals, and expressed solidarity with the fights against Oralism that the other was waging. For more on the value of a transatlantic lens in deaf history, see Joseph J. Murray, who argues that "a look at the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Western Deaf world shows Deaf people of this time created and maintained consistent contact with one another over national and continental boundaries" ("Coequality and Transnational Studies: Understanding Deaf Lives," Open Your Eyes: Deaf Studies Talking, ed. H-Dirksen L. Bauman [Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2008], p. 100). My transatlantic approach also acknowledges calls made in the field of Victorian Studies, most notably by Amanda Claybaugh, for expanding our critical scope beyond Britain's national borders.

(16) Laura Redden Searing, "The Realm of Singing," in Jones and Vallier, p. 207.

(17) James Nack, "Spring is Coming," New York Tribune, March 15, 1845.

(18) John Carlin, "The Mute's Lament," American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb l (October 1847): 14.

(19) The term "speaker," used in literary studies for the "narrator" of a poem, reveals a potentially problematic critical investment in the orality of poetry. I use the term within quotation marks throughout this paper in order to denote that I do not take the oral resonances of this term for granted.

(20) Amos G. Draper, "Memories of Sound," in Gallaudet, pp. 590-591.

(21) John R. Burnet, Tales of the Deaf and Dumb with Miscellaneous Poems (Newark, 1835), p. 230.

(22) William Henry Simpson, Daydreams of the Deaf: With an Introductory Preface on the Condition of the Deaf and Dumb (London, 1858), p. xiii.

(23) Quoted in Gallaudet, p. 590. Carlin declares that he "took delight in reading Shakespeare, Milton and Pope" and that he, in his capacity as an art student in Paris, illustrated Paradise Lost (Gallaudet, p. 589). Unfortunately, there is limited evidence about what kinds of poetry most of these deaf poets were reading and appreciating, so it is generally difficult to trace precise influences or to gain insight into how they were responding to their contemporaries, like Tennyson, Browning, or Whitman, who were experimenting radically with form, deviating from traditional rhyme schemes, and developing new genres like the dramatic monologue. The only poet who appears by name in the deaf poets' compositions is John Keats.

(24) Contemporary American deaf poet John Lee Clark makes the intriguing claim that deaf poetry reveals that "sound is mere medium, not source" of poetry (Clark, p. 7).

(25) "Absurd," Oxford English Dictionary Online (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2008).

(26) See, for instance, Herbert Tucker, "Dramatic Monologue and the Overhearing of Lyric," Lyric Poetry: Beyond New Criticism, ed. Chaviva Hosek and Patricia Parker (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1985); Isobel Armstrong, Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Politics, Poetics (London: Routledge, 1993); Eric Griffiths, The Printed Voice of Victorian Poetry (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1989); Yopie Prins, "Voice Inverse," VP 42, no. 1 (Spring 2004); Matthew Campbell, Rhythm and Will in Victorian Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999); Dennis Taylor, Hardy's Metres and Victorian Prosody (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1988); John M. Picker, Victorian Soundscapes (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2003); Ivan Kreilkamp, Voice and the Victorian Storyteller (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ, Press, 2005); Kirstie Blair, Victorian Poetry and the Culture of the Heart (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2006); Jason Rudy, Electric Meters: Victorian Physiological Poetics (Athens: Ohio Univ. Press, 2009).

(27) Griffiths' assertion that speech communicates better than writing and his intimation that speech is essential to literacy (p. 19) reveal his original phonocentrism. His evidence for these claims is derived from the product of Oralist deaf education. Griffiths' circular logic therefore uses evidence gleaned from a phonocentric system in order to defend phonocentrism.

(28) Yopie Prins, "Victorian Meters," The Cambridge Companion to Victorian Poetry, ed. Joseph Bristow (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000), p. 90.

(29) Lennard J. Davis, Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness and the Body (London: Verso, 1995), p. 61.

(30) Angie A. Fuller [later Angie Fuller Fischer], "The Semi-Mute's Soliloquy," American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb 24, no. 4 (October 1879): 262-263.

(31) This line explicitly introduces singing into the poem because it refers to the Christian hymn, usually sung to the Old Hundredth tune, known as "The Doxology" or "Praise God, from Whom all Blessings Flow," written by Thomas Ken in 1674.

(32) Alfred Tennyson, "Break, Break, Break," The Poems of Tennyson, ed. Christopher Ricks, 3 vols. (London: Longman, 1987).

(33) Margaret Linley uses a reading of Tennyson to offer the intriguing argument that Victorian poetry's focus on absent voices may reflect developments in technology. She writes that "the anthropomorphic turn of Victorian poetry, and the lyric in particular, with its attempt to conjure dead, absent, and lost voices while talking (figuratively) about voice, should be examined as one of the central locations for expression of anxieties and fascination arising out of the possibility that both industrial-powered print and new communications technologies such as photography, the telegraph, and later the phonograph were remapping human co-ordinates." See Linley, "Conjuring the Spirit: Victorian Poetry, Culture, and Technology," VP 41, no. 4 (2003): 539.

(34) Robert Browning, "The Bishop Orders His Tomb at St. Praxed's Church," Robert Browning, The Poems, ed. John Pettigrew and Thomas J. Collins (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1981).

(35) I restrict my examples for reasons of space, but we can certainly create a much longer list of Victorian poems that use the form of the written poem to meditate upon silence and the constraints on speaking subjectivity. Furthermore, there are all those poets, including Gerard Manley Hopkins and Algernon Charles Swinburne, who explicitly longed to infuse their written words with vocality. Hopkins, for instance, repeatedly emphasized in his letters that rather than "reading, as one commonly reads whether prose or verse, with the eyes," a reader should "take breath and read it with the ears, as I always wish to be read" (Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins to Robert Bridges, ed. Claude Colleer Abbott [London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1935], April 22, 1879; p. 79). He wrote to Robert Bridges, "To do the [The Loss of the] Eurydice any kind of justice you must not slovenly read it with the eyes but with your ears, as if the paper were declaiming it at you. For instance the line, 'she had come from a cruise training seamen' read without stress and declaim is mere Lloyd's shipping intelligence; properly read it is quite a different thing. Stress is the life of it" (May 21, 1878; pp. 51-52). While Hopkins' image of a sheet of paper "declaiming" "The Loss of the Eurydice" at its readers seems humorous, it is an entirely suitable image for the same paradox that the deaf poets address: that is, the notion that written poetry should somehow speak from the page.

(36) Singing-Mute, "Only a Few," The Deaf Mute 2, no. 1 (January 1889): 9-10.

(37) Laura C. Redden Searing, "At the Grave of Keats," in Jones and Vallier, pp. 173-175; Burnet, "Lines Written After a Visit to Passaic Falls (since corrected)," Tales, pp. 207210.

(38) Burnet, Tales; [Fuller] Fischer, "Semi-Mute's'; Kitto, Lost Senses; Mary Toles Peet, "Thoughts on Music," American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb 7, no. 4 (July 1855), 239-40; Laura Redden Searing, "Ten Years of Silence," Facts, Anecdotes and Poetry, relating to the Deaf and Dumb, ed. Edward Allen Hodgson (New York, 1891); Simpson, Daydreams.

(39) Jonathan Sterne, The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 2003), pp. 14-15.

(40) Sterne, Audible, p. 15. Jacques Derrida has, of course, also traced the privileging of the "presence" of speech in Western history and philosophy (Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1997]).

(41) I borrow Davis' terminology here for the pervasive appearance of deaf characters in English novels, especially in the Victorian period. Davis notes that in these novels deafness is constructed as an "absence of language. And since language is seen as human, as 'us,' the deaf are seen as 'not us.' For this reason, deafness is often portrayed comically in literature and drama" (Davis, Enforcing, p. 113). Victorian fiction is rife with this ageist and ableist comedy. The deaf character appears frequently in Dickens' fiction, for example, from Wemmick's "Aged" father, in Great Expectations, with whom communication is reduced to nodding, to Mrs. Wardle, "the deaf old lady," in The Pickwick Papers, who must have secrets shouted into her ear (Charles Dickens, Great Expectations [London: Penguin, 1965, repr. 1985], pp. 230-231; Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers [Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1998], p. 93). For more on deafness in Victorian fiction see Davis; Martha Stoddard Holmes, Fictions of Affliction: Physical Disability In Victorian Culture (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 2004); and my essay "'I listened with my eyes': Writing Speech and Reading Deafness in the Fiction of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins," ELH: English Literary History 78, no. 4 (Winter 2011): 991-1020.

(42) For more on the nineteenth-century history of Oralism, see Davis' Enforcing Normalcy; Douglas C. Baynton, Forbidden Signs: American Culture and the Campaign Against Sign Language (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1996); Jonathan Ree, I See A Voice: Deafness, Language and the Senses-A Philosophical History (New York: Metropolitan, 1999); Harlan Lane, When the Mind Hears: A History of the Deaf (New York: Vintage, 1984); and Jan Branson and Don Miller, Damned for their Difference: The Cultural Construction of Deaf People as Disabled (Washington, DC: Gallaudet Univ. Press, 2002).

(43) See my essay, "The Power of Deaf Poetry: The Exhibition of Literacy and the Nineteenth-Century Sign Language Debates," Sign Language Studies 8, no. 4 (Summer 2008): 348-368, for a discussion of how nineteenth-century deaf poetry was explicitly mobilized as part of the deaf community's resistance to Oralism.

(44) There are myriad examples of these figures of lyric address, especially in Romantic poetry, including, for example, Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Eolian Harp," Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind" and "To a Skylark" and Letitia E. Landon's "To Wordsworth" and "Felicia Hemans" (Coleridge, Selected Poetry, ed. H. J. Jackson [Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1997]; Shelley, The Complete Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 2004]; Landon, "Felicia Hemans," Letitia Elizabeth Landon: Selected Writings, ed. Jerome McGann and Daniel Reiss [Peterborough: Broadview, 1997]; Landon, "To Wordsworth," The Broad. view Anthology of Victorian Poetry and Poetic Theory, ed. Thomas J. Collins and Vivienne J. Rundle [Peterborough: Broadview, 1999]).

(45) For example, both the Norton Anthology of English Literature and the Broadview Anthology of British Literature preface the poem by quoting from Keats's friend Charles Brown: "Keats felt a tranquil and continual joy in [the nightingale's] song; and one morning he took his chair from the breakfast table to a grass plot under a plum tree, where he sat for two or three hours" composing this poem. See John Keats, "Ode to a Nightingale," The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Volume D: The Romantic Period, 8th ed., ed. Jack Stillinger and Deidre Shauna Lynch (New York: W.W. Norton, 2006), and John Keats, "Ode to a Nightingale," The Broadview Anthology of English Literature, Volume 4, The Age of Romanticism, ed. Joseph Black et al. (Peterborough: Broadview, 2006). This account also appears in Richard Monckton Milnes's 1848 Life, Letters, and Literary Remains of John Keats, 2 vols. (London, 1848), 1:244-245.

(46) Alfred Tennyson, "The Poet's Mind," in Ricks, ed., The Poems of Tennyson. As Campbell

notes, "In the Memoir, Hallam Tennyson quotes [Tennyson] as saying. 'Before I could read I was in the habit on a stormy day of spreading my arms to the wind and crying out "I hear a voice that's speaking in the wind."' The pre-literate boy, we are asked to believe, could speak in pentameters" (Campbell, p. 126). Like the story of Keats's nightingale muse, this anecdote privileges the ear as the source of poetic inspiration: poets must be more than superior writers. They must also have a special receptive relationship to aural experience.

(47) Christina Rossetti, "Song" ("When I am dead, my dearest"), Christina Rossetti: The Complete Poems, ed. R. W. Crump, 3 vols. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana Univ. Press, 19791990); Matthew Arnold, "To Marguerite-Continued" and "Dover Beach," The Poems of Matthew Arnold, ed. Miriam Allott (New York: Longman, 1979); Algernon Charles Swinburne, "Music: An Ode," The Poems of Swinburne, 6 vols (London: Chatto and Windus, 1905).

(48) Mary Toles Peet, "The Castle of Silence," American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb 11 (1859): 204-207.

(49) "Institution of the Deaf and Dumb." New York Times, July 14, 1859.

(50) Contemporary American Sign Language (ASL) poetry and British Sign Language (BSL) poetry by deaf poets extend the definition of poetry even further. This body of poetry, which adopts terminology from written and oral poetry including "rhythm" and "rhyme" for use with the visual patterns of signed poems, is almost always completely divorced not only from sound but also from writing. The poetry is created and presented in signed languages and is reproduced through video-based formats. Referencing W. B. Yeats's declaration, in The Wind Among the Reeds (1899), that he created his poem out of a "mouthful of air," Clark writes that ASL poets "make poetry out handfuls of air; their lexicon is cinematic, giving rise to a new poetics" (p. 6).
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Author:Esmail, Jennifer
Publication:Victorian Poetry
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Dec 22, 2011
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