Phonographic Hopkins: Sound, Cylinders, Silence, and "Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves".
In a November 1885 letter Hopkins wrote to his brother Everard, he expounds on the nature of his poetry, especially sound. "Poetry was originally meant for either singing or reciting, a record was kept of it; the record could be, was, read, and that in time by one reader, alone, to himself, with the eyes only," he posits. "Sound-effects were intended ... but they bear the marks of having been meant for the ... merely mental performance of the closet, the study, and so on." Then he declares, "This is not the true nature of poetry, the darling child of speech, of lips and spoken utterance: it must be spoken; till it is spoken it is not performed, it does not perform, it is not itself. Sprung rhythm gives back to poetry its true soul and self." The problem for poetry, in Hopkins's view, is that the sonic beauties and stirring acoustic effects of which the speaking voice is capable are rarely attained in his era, though he imagines classical Greek lyric performance to be an exemplar. "I look on this as an infinite field & very little worked," he laments, principally because the art of vocal performance "depends entirely on living tradition" (Cones., 2: 749). As individuals and succeeding generations of orators pass away, their performances die with them.
To avert the continuous erosion of the living tradition, Hopkins proposes a novel solution:
The phonograph may give us ^one,^ but hitherto there [begin strikethrough] is [end strikethrough] ^could be^ no record of fine [begin strikethrough] inflexions pronunciation [end strikethrough] ^spoken utterance^.... the natural performance and delivery belonging properly to lyric poetry, which is speech, has not been enough cultivated, and should be. When performers were trained to do it (it needs rarest gifts) and audiences to appreciate it[,] it would be, I am persuaded, a lovely art. . . . With the aid of the phonograph each phrase could be fixed and learnt by heart like a song. (Corres., 2: 749-750) (4)
Although Hopkins's knowledge of the phonograph--invented by Thomas Edison in the summer of 1877 to record sound by etching tinfoil, and later wax, on a rotating cylinder--is conceptual rather than experiential, he supposes it could sustain the otherwise living tradition of lyric poetry performance. (5)
In what follows, I analyze Hopkins's pronouncements on phonography's relationship to performance, in conjunction with his poems, to show how he saw the material reality of Edison's machine as aligned with the poetics he had already taken pains to articulate and would continue to justify. I propose not that the phonograph was an invention merely coincidental with Hopkins's mature poetry but that he was participating in phonographic thinking--a new interest in sound reproduction's potential material realities gaining cultural momentum at the time. While Edison responded to this thinking by building a phonograph, Hopkins responded by devising poetics elastic enough to permit and rigorous enough to integrate sonic aberration. I start by examining the affordances of the cylinder used by both men, proceed to compare Hopkins's use of aposiopesis--a rhetorical figure evincing the sudden breaking off of speech--with a coeval phonograph recording, and conclude by using the critical trajectory of the past hundred years to posit future routes of study. In doing so, I hope to show that treating the phonograph cylinder as form, rather than format, can unite it not just with other sound technologies but with poetry as well, thus veering from the speech-writing complex of literary studies' "gramophonocentrism" (6) toward the paradoxically valuable vocal imperfections that sound technologies and poetry facilitate. (7) I want to bring Hopkins into twenty-first-century sound studies to show that awareness of material culture can provide new readings of his poetry and new theoretical understandings of the bridge he represents between Victorian and modernist poetry. (8) To begin, I turn to a poem of central importance: "Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves."
Cylinder Affordances: Listening to "Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves"
When Hopkins wrote his phonograph letter to Everard in November 1885 (the sole mention of the invention in his extant correspondence), (9) he was in the middle of composing "Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves": he started writing the poem in November 1884 and sent a fair copy to Robert Bridges in November 1886 (LPM, pp. 298-301). This fact would be of little significance if not for its impact on the poem. While we cannot be sure just when Hopkins learned of the phonograph's existence, we know that he read (and later contributed to) the scientific journal Nature, which published multiple articles on the phonograph, as early as January 1878. The evolving manuscripts for "Sibyl's Leaves" suggest that phonographic thinking influenced the poem, inspiring the image of creation's disintegrating onto two spools:
Our tale, O our oracle! | Let life, waned, ah let life wind Off her once skeined stained veined variety | upon, all on two spools; part, pen, pack Now her all in two flocks, two folds--black, white; | right, wrong; reckon but, reck but, mind But these two; ware of a w6rld where but these | two tell, each off the other; of a rdck Where, selfwrung, selfstrung, sheathe- and shelterless, | thoughts against thoughts in groans grind. (PW, p. 191)
The earth's dapple disentangles apocalyptically in a sunset both literal and metaphorical, leaving nothing but "two spools, ... two flocks, two folds ... a world where but these | two tell." This disentangling, however, is not present in all four autographs of the poem: the two drafts before 1885 stop at "O this is our tale too!" (which would become "Our tale, O our Oracle" in the latest version; DN, pp. 112-113, 134-135). Hopkins adds creation's unspooling in 1886, after he writes the phonograph letter (LPM, pp. 300-301). Is there a connection between the phonograph's rotating cylinder and the "two spools" of "Sibyl's Leaves"?
An earlier sonnet suggests there is, but in a more fundamental way than one might expect. In 1877, the year Edison invented the phonograph, Hopkins penned "The Sea and the Skylark," wherein the speaker stands on a Welsh beach and listens to ocean and bird. Its second quatrain is most relevant:
Left hand, off land, I hear the lark ascend, His rash-fresh re-winded new-skeined score In crisps of curl off wild winch whirl, and pour And pelt music, till none's to spill nor spend. (PW, p. 143)
This quatrain strikingly foreshadows the dynamics and language of "Sibyl's Leaves." Its "re-winded, new-skeined score / In crisps of curl off wild winch whirl" mirrors, in reverse, the "life wind[s] / Off her once skeined stained veined variety | upon, all on two spools" of "Sibyl's Leaves." Moreover, both poems use their spinning cylinders to depict orality: the skein whirling off the winch pelts the bird's "music," and the skeins winding onto two spools "tell" and "groan." The sounding winch of "Skylark" seems like foreshadowing, in extended metaphor, of the mechanics of Edison's phonograph, and "Sibyl's Leaves" appears to be its continuation. Yet "Skylark" was written months before the phonograph existed--or, at least, existed publicly. Hopkins's composition of this poem was contemporaneous with Edison's work on the phonograph. While it might be easy to dismiss this timing as coincidence, what spinning cylinders could do nevertheless binds the phonograph and poems together.
Both Hopkins and Edison--and, in general, many nineteenth-century innovators analyzing sound--were interested in the preservation and reproduction of speech. Writing itself was one method of achieving this effect for millennia. Indeed, "phonography" was a word coined at the beginning of the eighteenth century to refer to written phonetic representation or spelling of speech. (10) By the early nineteenth century, a "phonograph" was a symbol or character representing a sound. (11) Starting in the 1840s (thus, for most of Hopkins's life), "phonography" referred particularly to Isaac Pitman's system of shorthand, which became wildly successful with pocket-sized works such as A Manual of Phonography; or, Writing by Sound (1845). To "phonograph" something was to write it down using Pitman's shorthand, so that well before Edison's device existed, a writer in 1857 could remark, "It is a great loss to the world that [legislators'] speeches were not phonographed and preserved for future generations." (12)
The "phonographic" impulse to preserve and reproduce speech was thus old when Edison reified it. This is why early reports of the phonograph treat it as a phonetic writing machine that could also read its writing aloud. A December 1877 Scientific American article (reprinted in Nature, January 1878) was titled "The Talking Phonograph." Otherwise redundant, "Talking" was added to distinguish Edison's invention from the existing, written versions of phonography. The article declares that Edison's machine "has already become a complete phonograph or sound writer," like many before it, but he saves us the trouble of translation "by literally making it read itself." (13) Contriving the cylinder to "read itself," rather than merely record speech--that was the novel feat Edison achieved, according to contemporaries.
Novelties are seldom new. Indeed, Edison himself acknowledged that the cylinder was an ancient form long used for recording speech: "It is curious to reflect that the Assyrians and Babylonians, 2,500 years ago, chose baked clay cylinders inscribed with cuneiform characters, as their medium for perpetuating records," he mused in 1888. "|T]his recent result of modern science, the phonograph, uses cylinders of wax for a similar purpose, but with the great and progressive difference that our wax cylinders speak for themselves." (14) Cylinder usage was millennia old, though its role differed from device to device. During the Enlightenment, sundry barrel organs and music boxes contained cylinders that could replay music, and nineteenth-century pianolas used binarypneumatic coding on paper stretched between cylinders to play their keys, but the devices were incapable of recording sound waves. (15) Conversely, Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville's midcentury phonautograph (and Alexander Graham Bell's modification of it) could record sound waves by tracing vibrations onto soot-covered paper wrapped around cylinders, but phonautograms could not be replayed. (16) In April 1877, just months before Edison finished his phonograph, Charles Cros submitted to the French Academy of Sciences plans for the Paleophone, which proposed both recording and reproduction of sound by photoengraving grooves on a cylinder (ultimately, the Paleophone was never built). Such precursors, then, might make Edison's choice seem inevitable. But the cylinder was not the only form used for sound recording and reproduction; it coexisted with competing designs, as the Nature article observed: "We have heard other talking machines. The Faber apparatus, for example, is a large affair, as big as a parlour organ. It has a key-board, rubber larynx and lips, and an immense amount of ingenious mechanism which combines to produce something like articulation in a single monotonous organ-note" ("Talking Phonograph," p. 191). Apparatuses such as this one inherited a different intellectual genealogy, born from Enlightenment automata and pipe-organ paradigms. Why, then, did so many sound technicians choose the cylinder?
The cylinder uniquely possesses several properties that make it ideal for recording and reproducing sound. Caroline Levine imports the concept of "affordance" into literary criticism to "capture the complex operations of social and literary forms," she explains. "I borrow the concept of affordance from design theory. Affordance is a term used to describe the potential uses or actions latent in materials and designs. Glass affords transparency and brittleness. Steel affords strength, smoothness, hardness, and durability," and so on. (17) The notion of affordance is key to understanding not just why so many inventors resorted to the cylinder but why Hopkins did as well. At stake in disclosing the (perhaps unexpected) formal union between phonograph and poem is the relation between form and format currently coming into focus across humanities scholarship. Media theorists such as Jonathan Sterne focus on format--a term coined by the Irish poet Thomas Moore in 1840 (18)--as denoting "a whole range of decisions that affect the look, feel, experience, and workings of a medium," which proactive policy-making or cultural practices eventually codify. (19) Format tracks differences between, say, Edison's phonograph cylinders and Bell's, which work only on their respective machines. Form is more capacious, denoting the necessary and sufficient conditions to be this shape, not another. Format, I argue, can be treated as a subset of form. While media histories often focus on format, form best unites machinery and poetry.
So what of the cylinder's form? First, the cylinder has a seamless surface that affords continuity of any recording up to the device's physical limits. Unlike the leaves of a codex, the cylinder permits linear text--be it words or grooves--to spiral continuously along its surface, end to end. (20) Use of this affordance is evident in everything from Assyrian clay cylinders to Edison's machine. It is also latent in the form of "Sibyl's Leaves." Hopkins's 1885 letter cites "The Loss of the Eurydice" in a preamble to his discussion of the phonograph, emphasizing its "run-over rhymes" (Cones., 2: 747). In a manuscript of the poem, he stipulates that the "scanning runs on without break to the end of the stanza, so that each stanza is rather one long line rhymed in passage than 4 lines with rhymes at the ends" (LPM, p. 136). The physical exigencies of the page and the tradition of end-rhyme chop "Eurydice" into quatrains. But performance would restore the oral continuity encouraged by its run-over rhymes.
As if to realize this effect more perfectly, Hopkins composes "Sibyl's Leaves" in extravagantly lengthy lines some eight years later. Upon sending the manuscript to Bridges, he called the poem his "long sonnet": "the longest, I still say, ever made; longest by its own proper length, namely by the length of its lines" (Corres., 2: 841). The lines, each comprising eight stresses, are so long that none of Hopkins's manuscripts and few published versions can fit them between a page's margins without fracturing them. Moreover, to emphasize continuity of text not just across these lines but between them as well, Hopkins enjambs nine lines of the sonnet (over 60 percent), including the audacious enjambment, midword, of "as- / Tray" (PW, p. 191). As the poem's "spools" suggest, an organizing principle of "Sibyl's Leaves" is continuity, of the kind afforded by the cylinder. To overlook this affordance is to misconstrue the poem's form. (21)
Second, the surface of a cylinder is curved, which affords storage of extensive stretches of sound that can be wrapped around it and thus compacted into a small space. The Nature article affirms this affordance by contrasting the Faber apparatus's clumsy bulk with Edison's "little affair of a few pieces of metal, set up roughly on an iron stand about a foot square" ("Talking Phonograph," p. 191). The cylinder's capacity to host remarkable amounts of data is a chief reason for the phonograph's compactness. "Sibyl's Leaves" invokes this affordance by stating that life's variety can "pen" and "pack" onto the spools. Gillian Beer has called this effect "condensing" (p. 272), and Eric Griffiths has noted that "pdck" suggests "cramming" and "over-crowding" onto these spools (p. 319). Such is the cylinder's capacity for storage.
Third, and most importantly, the cylinder's curved surface affords replay: one simply records sound, then rotates the cylinder to any position and replays the sound from the beginning, end, or anywhere between. To use Levine's words, replay was always one of the "potential uses or actions latent" in this form. Barrel organs, music boxes, and pianolas had exploited it, while phonautographs had failed to. Edison's insight was realizing he could exploit it once again, but this time in tandem with continuity and storage. Touting replay, The Phonogram magazine boasted in 1893 that the phonograph can "reproduce speech a half or a whole word at a time, or a complete sentence. It is absolutely under the control of the operator." (22) This description reflects back on "Sibyl's Leaves," suggesting that the manuscript's varying caesural marks render the long sonnet navigable, much like tracks on a modern compact disc. (23) The four autographs support this: the 1884 drafts equivocate, with the first containing only a few caesural marks and the second containing none at all; the 1886 drafts, in the phonograph letter's wake, mark every caesura with a line or gap. Facilitating replay of the sonnet became paramount for Hopkins. (24)
In fact, recognizing the eminent replayability of "Sibyl's Leaves" encourages a new reading that gestures beyond the sonnet. As before, the foreshadowing of the spools in the winch of "Skylark" is instructive. Hopkins painstakingly explained the second quatrain's unusual image to Bridges in November 1882:
The skein and coil are the lark's song, which from his height gives the impression (not to me only) of something falling to the earth and not vertically quite but tricklingly or wavingly, something as a skein of silk ribbed by [begin strikethrough] bei [end strikethrough] having been tightly wound on a narrow card or a notched holder or ^as^ fishingtackle or twine unwound [begin strikethrough] unwinding [end strikethrough] from a reel or winch ... The [begin strikethrough] bird [end strikethrough] ^lark^ in wild glee races the reel round, paying [begin strikethrough] out [end strikethrough] or dealing out and down the turns of the skein or coil right to the earth floor, the ground, where it lies in a heap, as it were, or rather is ^all^ fvvound off on ^to^ another winch, reel, [begin strikethrough] or [end strikethrough] bobbin, or spool in Fancy's eye by the moment the bird touches earth and so is ready for a fresh unwinding at the next flight. (Corres., 2: 552)
As with the phonograph cylinder, the skylark's winch affords not only continuity of song ("as a skein of silk") and storage ("dealing out and down the turns of the skein") but also replay. (25) The birdsong is "wound off on to another winch" so it is "ready for a fresh unwinding," a process that anticipates twentieth-century reel-to-reel tapes and cassettes. The potential for replay is the point of Hopkins's choosing the cylindrical form of the winch, which he tellingly refers to here as a "spool." Indeed, his explanation suggests there are two spools producing the skylark's song, just as there are two in "Sibyl's Leaves." The two spools of the latter poem operate in opposition, while the skylark's spools operate in concert. Regardless, the motivation for Hopkins's formal choice remains the same: even the apocalyptic spools in "Sibyl's Leaves" afford unspooling, afford replay, as any cylinder always does.
Unleashing the cylinder's latent potential for replay in this grim sonnet frees one from dwelling on doom, persuading one to look beyond it for salvation, a revelation that can often go undetected. I. A. Richards's 1926 Dial article on Hopkins, a pivotal early review, misses the immense potential energy stored in the poem. "It is characteristic of this poet that there is no repose for him in the night of traditional morality," Richards observes. "As the terrible last line shows, the renunciation of all the myriad temptations of life brought no gain. It was all loss." (26) Beer responds similarly: "The entropic movement [of 'Sibyl's Leaves'] is towards the degradation and loss of differentiating energy" (p. 272). Griffiths does sense the affordance for replay, noting that the overcrowding connoted by "pick" could lead to "spilling over" (p. 319). But he does not pursue this thread. Does Hopkins? After all, Griffiths is right to say merely that the spooling could lead to spilling over--because by sonnet's end, it does not. The sonnet possesses the potential for replay but closes with groaning and grinding. Where is the release?
Hopkins provided it two years later with "That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection" (PW, pp. 197-198). This late poem generally reiterates the structure of "Sibyl's Leaves," moving from the firmament filled with stars to earth's teeming variety to an apocalypse where "death blots black out," "black, / Ever so black on it" ("Heraclitean Fire," 1. 14; "Sibyl's Leaves," 11. 9-10). The two extended sonnets share imagery extensively, (27) and both reach a fever pitch that acts as an exclamatory turn: "Our tale, O our oracle!" declares "Sibyl's Leaves" (1. 10); "Enough!" shouts "Heraclitean Fire" (I. 16). But the latter sonnet goes on--and on. It continues with not one but three triplets--what Hopkins calls "codas" (28)--that present the "Resurrection" as reversal, a "heart's-clarion" to the "heart" that gave up in "Sibyl's Leaves." These codas about the Resurrection are the unspooling--the replay--implied by the spooling of "Sibyl's Leaves" but never enacted in that poem. Nevertheless, potential for replay in the long sonnet was foreshadowed by its "tale," which becomes the unfurled codas (coda is Italian for "tail") in "Heraclitean Fire." (29) Even the meter of the codas suggests that they are unrolled lines from "Sibyl's Leaves": each triplet of the former contains sixteen stresses, accounting for two spooled lines of eight stresses from the latter. The codas release the enormous potential energy stored up in the earlier poem in "a flash ... all at once." Tellingly, while the rest of "Heraclitean Fire" is overwhelmingly visual, this released energy is principally sonic, blasting from a clarion, erupting from a trumpet that evokes the phonograph's own. (30)
The transformation in "Heraclitean Fire" from luminous to sonic energy excavates another feature of "Sibyl's Leaves": from the first, the poem conceals references that mark hearing as its central conceit, primarily through repetition of "ear." The sonnet begins with "Earnest, earthless" and proceeds with "hearse," "earliest," "earl," "e'arth," and "Heart," each one of these ears receiving a stress. Evening is "attuneable" and "volum[e]inous"; it "strains" with "selfwrung, selfstrung" thoughts, as if in orchestral performance. "Sibyl's Leaves" is decidedly sonic, but not as overtly as "Skylark" or "Kingfishers," with its display of ringing stones, tucked strings, and swinging bells. Symbolically, the long sonnet's sonic references are stored inside other words, another ingenious nod to the pent-up acoustic energy the poem contains.
Hopkins viewed the Resurrection as the release of this energy, afforded by the cylinder's form, but he was not the only one to associate salvation with phonography. In the same year that Hopkins drafted "Heraclitean Fire," Horatio Nelson Powers presented "The Phonograph's Salutation," which was replayed on a phonograph at the Crystal Palace in 1888. (31) Powers's poem demonstrates that other nineteenth-century writers were thinking about phonography in biblical, even apocalyptic ways:
I seize the palpitating air. I hoard Music and speech. All lips that breathe are mine. I speak, and the inviolable word, Authenticates its origin and sign. I am a tomb, a paradise, a throne; An angel, prophet, slave, immortal friend; My living records, in their native tone, Convict the knave and disputations end. In me are souls embalmed. I am an ear Flawless as truth, and truth's own tongue am I. I am a resurrection: men may hear The quick and dead converse, as I reply. Hail English shores, and homes, and marts of peace! New trophies, Gouraud, yet are to be won. May sweetness, light, and brotherhood increase! I am the latest-born of Edison. (32)
The poem's first three quatrains mirror the sentiments and vocabulary of the Hopkins poems I have been discussing, especially the ears of "Sibyl's Leaves" and the "Resurrection" of "Heraclitean Fire." But the poem's final quatrain also commemorates a significant event in the phonograph's history, involving one of Hopkins's contemporaries, that takes us deeper into "Sibyl's Leaves" and Hopkins's poetry in general.
Measured Silence: Hopkins's Aposiopesis and Browning's "Breakdown"
Besides line length and spool imagery in "Sibyl's Leaves," perhaps the poem's most striking feature is the ellipsis marking an aposiopesis in its first line, especially singled out by Hopkins in his header to the first fair copy written after the phonograph letter: "sonnet: sprung rhythm: a rest of one stress in the first line" (LPM, p. 300). Lesley Higgins has astutely observed that Hopkins's ellipses may seem like just "three dots," and they are rare, appearing in only three other poems: "The Wreck of the Deutschland," "The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo," and "The Shepherd's Brow." (33) But a lot rides on them, especially this one in "Sibyl's Leaves," given the poem's links with phonography. This momentary absence of language is a flashpoint for another set of phonographic values related to preservation and reproduction that incorporates sprung rhythm: distinctiveness and intelligibility.
As acknowledged at the opening of this essay, readers of the 1918 Poems were struck by the difficulty of Hopkins's poetry, which Bridges feared would be lambasted as unintelligible. Yet by 1926, Richards was praising Hopkins's obscurity, and Laura Riding and Robert Graves claimed in A Survey of Modernist Poetry (1927) that Hopkins was modernist because of his apparent unintelligibility. In their view, he was "a modernist in virtue of his extraordinary strictness in the use of words and the unconventional notation he used in setting them down so that they had to be understood as he meant them to be, or understood not at all (this is the crux of the whole question of the intelligibility of 'difficult' poetry)." (34) To demonstrate how this truth connects with aposiopesis in "Sibyl's Leaves," it is instructive to turn to Robert Browning--from whom Hopkins was often eager to distinguish himself, though he acknowledged similarities--and Browning's much-remarked-upon interaction with the phonograph. (35)
As Powers's "The Phonograph's Salutation" proclaims, Edison sent Colonel George Gouraud to London to record famous voices. At a dinner party on 7 April 1889, he asked Browning to recite something, and the poet chose his highly metrical "How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix." (36) Partly bewildered by having to perform for a phonograph, Browning forgot the lines of his own text, then tried to save face, as this recording transcription documents:
I sprang to the saddle, and Joris, and he; I galloped, Dirk galloped, we galloped all three; "Speed!" cried the wall to us galloping through; The gate shuts behind us ... The gate shuts behind us, the lights sink to rest ... [pause] I am terribly sorry, but I can't remember me [sic] own verses: but one thing which I shall remember all my life is, the astonishing sensation produced upon me by your wonderful invention. [pause] Robert Browning! (37)
Sympathizing, a man's voice (probably Gouraud's) then shouts, "Braaaaaavo, Robert!" and coaxes the audience into hip-hip-hoorays. It is a humorous and touching moment, made more so because Browning died later that year, making this the only recording he left behind. (38)
While much has been said about this famous phonogram, its disclosure of one of phonography's most peculiar consequences remains underanalyzed. In a July 1900 interview with The Strand Magazine, the painter G. H. Boughton reminisced that he was present for Browning's recording, noting that the poet "had the most marvelous memory [he] ever knew." (39) Boughton reports that when Browning apologized, "the owner of the phonograph declared that the cylinder was more valuable to him on account of the breakdown than if the poet had recited it right through" (p. 15). Like numismatic flaws and philatelic freaks, this cylinder is more valuable because of a paradox produced by the phonograph: it recorded a moment of aposiopesis that was proverbially irreproducible, then promptly reproduced it. Browning's "breakdown," as Boughton calls it, was especially valuable because it was not part of any written or printed version of the poem anywhere. It was simultaneously one of a kind and exceptionally replicable.
This paradox revealed by Browning's recording brings one back to the aposiopesis in "Sibyl's Leaves." It, too, is a kind of breakdown that would sound strikingly similar to Browning's, were it performed as Hopkins intended. This is even truer of other examples, such as "But how shall I ... make me room there: / Reach me a ... Fancy, come faster--/ Strike you the sight of it? look at it loom there, / Thing that she ... There then!" from "The Wreck of the Deutschland" (PW, p. 126). (40) Aposiopesis such as this is effectively a written record of sound's absence, accomplished by sprung rhythm's elasticity, since even the rest in "Sibyl's Leaves" carries a stress, according to Hopkins's manuscript note. The "Elected Silence" of "The Habit of Perfection" (PW, p. 89), which exhorted the lips to "shape nothing" and "be lovely-dumb" (PW, p. 90) in 1866, now becomes what one might call a "measured silence," meted by sprung rhythm. Whereas Browning's recorded "breakdown" reproduces his bewilderment before the phonograph, Hopkins's recorded aposiopesis reproduces utter stupefaction before apocalyptic evening, as "stupendous" suggests. (41)
Any aposiopesis or momentary sonic confusion in poems such as "Sibyl's Leaves" is best understood within the phonographic paradigm I have been developing. The overwhelming unintelligibility at first reading this poem has caused critics such as Jonathan Culler to remark on its "driving amoral sonic energy" (p. 156). Driving, sonic, and energetic--absolutely. But it seems unlikely that Hopkins thought of these qualities as "amoral." Rather, the extreme sonic contours reveal the poem's nature, its inscape, albeit a baffled and baffling one. It should be retained as the record of stupefaction--codified, rehearsed, and reproduced each time one recites the poem, just as Browning's phonogram repeats his "breakdown." The retention of such stupefaction, rather than confirming the "wantonness" that Bridges accused Hopkins's poetry of, instead requires consummate control, the "mastery" that Hopkins so valued. Indeed, as mentioned earlier, one appeal of the phonograph from the beginning was that it was "absolutely under the control of the operator" and could reproduce as much of a sentence at a time as the operator wished. This type of control is masterfully exhibited in lines such as "where, where was a, where was a place?--" ("Deutschland," PW, p. 119), "the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!" ("The Windhover," PW, p. 144), and "(my God!) my God" ("Carrion Comfort," PW, p. 183).
For Hopkins, this phonographic control over reproduction--this "oftening, over-and-overing, aftering"--detaches inscape to the mind. (42) Oral idiosyncrasies such as the rhythmicity of aposiopesis in "Sibyl's Leaves" are "past changing, grubs in amber," honoring the beauty of "All things counter, original, spare, strange." (43) They are simultaneously irreproducible and reproducible in poetry, itself a sound recording. Indeed, phonography constitutes a kind of transubstantiation, Roman Catholicism's sacramental doctrine that convinced Hopkins to convert. As he wrote in 1864, "The great aid to belief and object of belief is the doctrine of the Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar" (Corres., 1: 62). The one-time sacrifice of the Logos, that singular material event, is reproduced over and over in the Eucharist, under control of priestly verbal performance. (44) As Hopkins emphatically declared, the Eucharist alone makes religion "loveable" (Corres., 1: 62). It should come as no surprise, then, that he urged performance of his poetry: he was persuaded that it could be a "lovely" art, and "the phonograph may give us one."
Criticism's Phonographic Transformations and Other Pursuits
While Hopkins's poetry was privately kept under Robert Bridges's care, sound-recording machines proliferated, with home recording reportedly reaching its apex in 1908. (45) Thus, when Poems was finally published in 1918, the Anglo-American world was already saturated with sound reproduction and more acclimated to phonography. Modernists were thinking through concepts phonographically, as evidenced by the well-known gramophones in James Joyce's Ulysses (1922) and T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land (1922) and even by the idiosyncratic repetitions of Gertrude Stein's The Making of Americans (1925). Critics and educators were, too. In Practical Criticism, for example, Richards wrote of "stock responses" he received from students in phonographic terms: "The button is pressed, and then the author's work is done, for immediately the record starts playing in quasi- (or total) independence of the poem which is supposed to be its origin or instrument" (pp. 15-16). F. R. Leavis takes up "Sibyl's Leaves" in New Bearings in English Poetry (1932), analyzing the relationship between intelligibility and Hopkins's insistence that his poetry be read aloud, which causes Leavis to characterize the sonnet as "a complete success." (46) "In comparison with such a poem," he observes, "any other poetry of the nineteenth century is seen to be using only a very small part of the resources of the English language. His words seem to have substance, and to be made of a great variety of stuffs" (p. 186). (47) Leavis's response is in tune with phonography's material conditions, wherein language literally has substance and form as never before. I would suggest that the New Critics were able to understand Hopkins as a genius fully formed partly because phonography's ubiquity in the early twentieth century enabled such perception. Like many poets after him, Hopkins had caught the twentieth-century wave of phonography, which started as a ripple around him in the nineteenth century.
I would also propose that this remained true through the twentieth and into the twenty-first century. For example, Matthew Rubery, in his 2016 study of audiobooks, cites Caedmon Records' 1958 recording of The Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins:
Listening closely made difficult scripts accessible to some readers who struggled to understand them in print. Hearing Gerard Manley Hopkins's prosody made sense since Hopkins himself had wanted his poems to be read aloud. As the album points out, he insisted to Robert Bridges, who found the poet's rhythms eccentric and off-putting, that "right, 'dramatic' reading would make his art quite intelligible." This is what Hopkins meant when asking for his verse to be read with the ears. Unbeknownst to Caedmon, Hopkins had even looked forward to a time when sound-recording technology would teach people how to read his verse, (p. 199) (48)
Rubery's assessment reveals not just that Caedmon Records felt Hopkins's poetry was a natural fit for recording in the 1950s but that Rubery himself accepts sound recording as suitable for Hopkins's poetry in the 2010s.
Research such as Rubery's gestures toward one thread critics could pursue further in the next century of reading Hopkins: What is the chronology of recordings of his poetry since 1918? How have performances differed? Which poems were chosen for performance? And what can these recordings tell us about Hopkins's evolving reputation and reception? (49) Finally, in this essay, I have largely avoided analysis of the topic that inspired Hopkins to invoke the phonograph in the first place: the lyric. The rest of his letter is a trove for his thoughts on the nature of the lyric:
In drama the fine [begin strikethrough] pro [end strikethrough] ^spoken^ utterance has been cultivated and [begin strikethrough] has [end strikethrough] a tradition established, but everything is most highly wrought and furthest developed where it is cultivated by itself; fine utterance then will not be best developed in the drama, where gesture and action generally are to play a great part too; it must be developed in recited lyric. Now hitherto this has not been done. The Greeks carried lyric to its highest perfection in Pindar and the tragic choruses, but what was this lyric? not a spoken lyric at all, but song; poetry written neither to be recited nor chanted even nor ^even^ sung to a transferable tune but each piece ^of itself^ a song. (Corres., 2: 749)
Hopkins seems to outline not just the relations between lyric, drama, and song but also, implicitly, those between lyric and other contemporary poetic forms, such as dramatic monologue and ballad. For this reason, his theories are not merely his own but can speak to larger discourses surrounding lyric in the late nineteenth century. Our century is already caught up in debates about the nature of lyric, from historicists (such as Yopie Prins and Virginia Jackson) to non-historicists (such as Culler). (50) What can the connections that Hopkins makes between phonography and lyric contribute to this conversation? Can his paradigm be compared to those of contemporaries who had similar ideas, or is it sui generis? As usual, Hopkins's work has much more to tell us if only we choose to listen.
I thank Joaquin Kuhn, Jason Camlot, Matthew Rubery, Jason Rudy, and the editors of this issue for their comments on drafts. And, as always, 1 thank Sianne Ngai, Claire Jarvis, Jean Ma, and especially Roland Greene.
(1) Arthur Clutton-Brock, "Gerard Hopkins," Times Literary Supplement 886 (9 January 1919): 19.
(2) I. A. Richards, Practical Criticism: A Study of Literary Judgment (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1929), p. 81; emphasis in the original.
(3) Eric Griffiths, The Printed Voice of Victorian Poetry (Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon, 1989), p. 284.
(4) The phrase "learnt by heart," used here in tandem with phonography, carried particular pedagogical valences in Hopkins's time. The Newcastle Commission that examined British education in 1861 advised that "pupil-teachers should be required to learn by heart passages of standard English prose and poetry.... Learning by heart is a most valuable exercise." In contrast to Hopkins's suggested use of the phonograph, however, learning by heart was recommended by the commission to relieve "the mechanical character" of teacher training. See Catherine Robson, Heart Beats: Everyday Life and the Memorized Poem (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 2012), p. 59.
(5) I have found no evidence that Hopkins was ever in the presence of a phonograph, only that he read or heard about it.
(6) Paul K. Saint-Amour, "Ulysses Pianola," PMLA 130 (January 2015): 15-36. Saint-Amour proposes a "pneumatic criticism," based on the pianola, that can provide alternative critical paths to those such as Jacques Derrida's.
(7) "Vocal imperfections" does not mean imperfections in recording material--the "scratchy, dim, and shortwinded infancy" of shellac (tinfoil, wax, etc.), as Tim Armstrong calls it--nor literature's attempt to replicate such materiality, what Saint-Amour calls the "bravura transliteration of the needle's being set down on the record ('Kraahraark') and sizzling in the run-out groove ('krpthsth')" of Joyce's Ulysses. Tim Armstrong, "Player Piano: Poetry and Sonic Modernity," Modernism/Modernity 14 (January 2007): 3; Saint-Amour, "Ulysses Pianola," p. 28. Nor does it mean Roland Barthes' "grain of voice"; the phrase refers to (perceived) imperfections in the utterance itself. See Cavarero's essay on vocality in The Sound Studies Reader, ed. Jonathan Sterne (New York: Routledge, 2012), pp. 520-532.
(8) For other analyses of Hopkins with regard to sound, sound technology, and prosody, see Matthew Rubery, The Untold Story of the Talking Book (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 2016); John Picker, Victorian Soundscapes (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2003); Meredith Martin, The Rise and Fall of Meter: Poetry and English National Culture, 1860-1930 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 2012); Jason Rudy, Electric Meters: Victorian Physiological Poetics (Athens: Ohio Univ. Press, 2009); and Gillian Beer, Open Fields: Science in Cultural Encounter (Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon, 1996).
(9) Hereinafter, "phonograph letter" denotes this specific Hopkins letter. This phrase does not refer to letters sent by phonograph, a phenomenon analyzed by Jason Camlot.
(10) According to the OED, the first use of "phonography" appeared in 1701.
(11) According to the OED, the first use of "phonograph" (as a noun) appeared in 1835-1840.
(12) OED Online, s.v. "phonograph, v.," accessed 1 March 2017, www.oed.com/view /Entry/235630?rskey=C1679n&result=2&isAdvanced=false#eid.
(13) "The Talking Phonograph," Nature 17 (3 January 1878): 191.
(14) Thomas A. Edison, "The Perfected Phonograph," North American Review 146 (June 1888): 645.
(15) Poets and critics from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries deferred to other cylinder devices as well to explicate literary theories. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, for example, laments in Biographia Literaria that "now, partly by the labors of successive poets, ... language, mechanized as it were into a barrel-organ, supplies at once both instrument and tune. Thus even the deaf may play, so as to delight the many," which alludes to the barrel organ's ability to replay but not record. Coleridge, Biographia Literaria (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press, 2014), p. 26. See Armstrong, "Player Piano"; Saint-Amour, "Ulysses Pianola."
(16) They could not be replayed, that is, until recently. See Melissa Block and Robert Siegel, "Reconsidering Earliest-Known Recording," NPR, 1 June 2009, www.npr.org /templates/story/story.php?storyld=104797243.
(17) Caroline Levine, Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 2015), p. 6.
(18) Like Hopkins, Moore was Catholic and college-educated in classics. Significantly, "format" first pertains to books and was adopted by other aesthetic and media discourses (photography, painting, architecture) only in the twentieth century.
(19) Jonathan Sterne, MP3: The Meaning of a Format (Durham, N.C.: Duke Univ. Press, 2012), p. 7.
(20) The cylinder's "spiral" is technically a helix. In an 1881 sermon, Hopkins calls the spiral "the type of the Devil, ... a type of death, of motion lessening and at last ceasing" (SD, p. 198).
(21) For Jonathan Culler's relineated version of "Sibyl's Leaves," see Culler, Theory of the Lyric (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 2015), p. 154. "Sibyl's Leaves" might be halting in its catalogues and clauses, but its prevailing formal quality is continuity, a cylinder affordance that resists the disintegration of which it warns.
(22) "What the Phonograph Will Do," Phonogram 1 (May 1893): 3.
(23) As Culler notes, Hopkins's caesural marks help the reader "keep track" of the poem's progress (Theory, p. 154).
(24) See LPM, pp. 298-301; see also DN, pp. 112-113,134-135.
(25) This trickling, waving image of the skylark's song might have been inspired by actual sound-wave tracings, reproduced in the works of John Tyndall and Hermann von Helmholtz. Tyndall, whom Hopkins met in the Alps and whose lectures he read, published this image of a tuning fork's vibrations in 1867 (Tyndall, Sound: A Course of Eight Lectures [London: Longmans, Green, 1867], p. 269):
The 1875 English translation of Helmholtz's Sensations of Tone reproduced a sound wave from one of Scott's phonautograms (Helmholtz, On the Sensations of Tone as a Physical Basis for the Theory of Music, trans. Alexander J. Ellis [London: Longmans, Green, 1875], p. 30). The same image was reprinted in the 1885 edition, as depicted here (p. 20):
Fig. 6 is the copy of a drawing actually made in this way on the rotating cylinder of Meagre, Scott and Koenig's Phonmtogragh.
Turn either image on its end ("not vertically quite, ... only not horizontally," as Hopkins's letter instructs [p. 552]), and you are left with an image quite like the ribbed skein trickling or waving to earth. This dynamic of a rolling skein falling to earth in zigzags, moreover, is powerfully repeated elsewhere in Hopkins.
(26) I. A. Richards, "Gerard Hopkins," Dial (September 1926): 200.
(27) Examples include "throng" in "Heraclitean Fire" and "throngs" in "Sibyl's Leaves"; "heaven-roysterers" and "earl stars"; "shivelights" and "hornlight"; "elm arches" and "beak leaved boughs"; "lace, lance, and pair" and "pdrt, pen, pack"; "firedint" and "fire-featuring"; "mark on mind" and "mind / But these two."
(28) The "Heraclitean Fire" manuscript is marked "sonnet with two codas," although there are three. See LPM, p. 330.
(29) Hopkins comments to Bridges on "Sibyl's Leaves," "anything can be made long by eking, by tacking, by trains, tails, and flounces. I shd. be glad however if you wd. explain what a coda is and how employed." Cones., 2: 842.
(30) Contrast this acoustic entropic reversal to the thermal or luminous reversals examined in Jude V. Nixon, '"Death blots black out': Thermodynamics and the Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins," VP 40 (2002): 131-155; see also Beer, Open Fields, pp. 242-272.
(31) See Picker, Victorian Soundscapes, p. 117; Brian Kane, Sound Unseen: Acousmatic Sound in Theory and Practice (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2014), pp. 184-186, 191-193, 266.
(32) Horatio Nelson Powers, "The Phonograph's Salutation," Unbound Clippings Series: Clippings (1888) (SC88049A; TAEM 146:277), Thomas Edison Papers (SC88), Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J.. Note the similarity between "hoarding" sound in this poem and "to hoard unheard / Heard unheeded" (11. 13-14) in "To Seem the Stranger," one of the sonnets of desolation from 1885-1886, the period of Hopkins's phonograph letter (PW, p. 181).
(33) Lesley Higgins, "Reckoning Up the Ellipses in Hopkins's Poetry," Hopkins Quarterly 40 (Summer-Fall 2013): 69.
(34) Laura Riding and Robert Graves, A Survey of Modernist Poetry (London: William Heinemann, 1927), p. 90; emphasis in the original.
(35) Hopkins could make disparaging comparison between his poetry and Browning's, as in his letter explaining "Skylark" (Cones., 2: 552).
(36) Robert Browning, "How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix," 7 April 1889, phonogram, Public Domain Review, accessed 18 July 2018, http:// publicdomainreview.org/collections/robert-browning-attempting-to-recite-a-poem -on-the-edison-cylinder-1889/.
(37) Qtd. in Yopie Prins, "Voice Inverse," VP 42 (Spring 2004): 48.
(38) Alfred Tennyson made several phonograms in 1890. Notably, when the Browning cylinder was replayed a year after his death, his sister Sarianna declared it an "indecent seance" (Picker, Victorian Soundscapes, pp. 123-125). For analyses of the Browning recording, see Prins, "Voice Inverse"; and John M. Picker, "English Beat: The Stethoscopic Era's Sonic Traces," in Sounds of Modern History: Auditory Cultures in 19th- and 20th-century Europe, ed. Daniel Morat (New York: Berghahn Books, 2014), pp. 25-45.
(39) Rudolph De Cordova, "Illustrated Interviews: Mr. George Henry Boughton, R.A," Strand Magazine 20 (July 1900): 15. The way Boughton talks about Browning's memory, which could now be outsourced to the phonograph, is strikingly similar to the way Hopkins uses cylinders in his two sonnets. Browning could "reel. . . off' lines from memory, and when Browning forgot his own lines, he nearly "took up the thread again," Boughton states.
(40) For thorough analysis of ellipses, particularly in the "Deutschland," see Higgins, "Reckoning Up the Ellipses."
(41) Stupendous: in Latin, "causing fear and amazement."
(42) Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Journals and Papers of Gerard Manley Hopkins, ed. Humphrey House and Graham Storey (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1959), p. 289.
(43) Corres., 2: 576; "Pied Beauty" (1. 7; PW, p. 144).
(44) In 1888, Emile Berliner, who invented the gramophone, observed, "Supposing that his Holiness, the Pope, should desire to send broadcast a pontifical blessing to his millions of believers, he may speak into the recorder," and the resulting records could be "sent to the principal cities in the world." Berliner, "The Gramophone: Etching the Human Voice," Journal of the Franklin Institute 75 (June 1888): 445-446.
(45) Frances Densmore, one of the earliest ethnographers to use phonographic recording, recalled in her 1941 report to the Smithsonian, titled "The Study of Indian Music," that the "phonograph [she] bought was a small machine and the Bureau in 1908 replaced it with a Columbia graphophone. Home recording was at the height of its popularity and this machine was made to meet the demand." Densmore, "The Study of Indian Music," Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1941), p. 530.
(46) F. R. Leavis, New Bearings in English Poetry: A Study of the Contemporary Situation (London: Chatto and Windus, 1932), p. 182.
(47) Because Leavis is attuned to Hopkins's sounds and materiality, he counters the idea of a relineation like Culler's. See Leavis, New Bearings, pp. 172-174.
(48) The reader was the actor Cyril Cusack.
(49) Another thread might include Hopkins's wire imagery. Rudy has expounded on Hopkins's interest in electricity; Walter J. Ong, S.J., once called the "Deutschland" the "first great telegraphically conditioned poem in English." Ong, Hopkins, the Self, and God (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1986), p. 50.
(50) Prins, "Voice Inverse"; Virginia Jackson, Dickinson's Misery: A Theory of Lyric Reading (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 2005); Culler, Theory.
Caption: Fig. 6.
Caption: Fig. 145.
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|Title Annotation:||Gerard Manley Hopkins|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2018|
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