Though a venerable lyric tradition of apostrophizing the breeze, the dawn, or the nightingale celebrates the Romantic poet's words of power, only inmates of mental hospitals actually talk to birds, trees, or doors-much less to holes in a wall, as Pound's speaker does in "Marvoil." This essay shows how Victorian dramatic monologues substitute human auditors for nonhuman ones in an effort to naturalize a convention that nineteenth-century poets find increasingly obsolete and archaic. Instead of talking to the dawn, Tennyson's Tithonus addresses a beautiful woman, the goddess who becomes the silent auditor of his dramatic monologue. Like Coleridge's conversation poems, Browning's and Tennyson's monologues are poems of one-sided conversation in which a speaker's address to a silent auditor replaces Shelley's vocatives of direct address to the west wind or Keat's apostrophes to autumn. In recuperating an archaic convention of lyric apostrophe by humanizing the object addressed, the Victorian dramatic monologue illustrates John Keble's theory of the mechanisms by which genres are disturbed, displaced, and transformed. The dramatic monologue becomes an ascendant genre in post-Romantic literature partly because it is better equipped than lyric poetry to oppose the dogmas of a secular and scientific age in which an antiquated belief in "doing-by-saying" (including a belief in oracles, prophecies, and knowledge as divination) is in rapid and widespread retreat.
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