Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Anna K. Nardo


This study blends linguistic science and literary criticism by using phonological theory and methodology to uncover interpretive clues in the form of structurally-based guidance to the manner of performance of certain lines of selected poems. Its underlying assumption is that with regard to interpretation, the oral dimension of metrical lyric poetry is at least as important as the written dimension, since such commonly accepted features as meter, rhyme, and alliteration depend on oral performance of the poetry involved, at least in the form of the reader's sounding it imaginarily to the mind's ear. It follows that intonationally precise renditions of interpretations under consideration need to be taken into account as part of the evidence used to determine their acceptability or unacceptability as interpretations. An interpretation that is more completely supported by a poem's phonological structure, by that structure's facilitating more precise performance of meaning (in the spirit of Pope's dictum the sound must seem an echo to the sense), is by this measure a more accurate interpretation than one whose performance is less completely supported. In addition to structural sound elements (such as meter or rhyme) offering automatic but usually subtle expression of the speaker's meaning or mood, many poetic lines contain phonetic, metrical, or syntactical arrangements conducive to particular instances of optional performance variations, and therefore supporting the interpretations expressed by those variations. The conversational style and directly expressed emotion of Donne's love lyrics cause these poems, especially, to reward such interpretive performance analysis. The ongoing interpretive debates regarding the speaker's tone surrounding many of the lyrics can thus be adjudicated by considering the phonological elements enabling or hindering precise renditions of given interpretations. Examined in detail are A nocturnall upon S. Lucies day, Elegy XIX: To his Mistress Going to Bed, The Canonization, Twicknam Garden, The Sunne Rising, and The Extasie. A different use of performance analysis, that of considering phonological differences among-various versions of a poem whose text is under dispute, is employed in a study of three distinct texts of A Hymne to God the Father.