SPEAKER VS. POET THE SPEAKER One of the most difficult concepts in the study of poetry is that of the speaker. The speaker is roughly equivalent to the narrator of fictional works. It is a character or psychological persona that the poet constructs to deliver the words of the poem. WHO IS THE SPEAKER OF A POEM? Many times in poetry, personal feelings and thoughts are expressed in first person; however, just as the authors of novels do not necessarily feel and think the same things as their characters, poets who use “I” in their poems may not be speaking for themselves. It is important to remember that the speaker of the poem is the proper term in formal analysis. WHY DO POEMS HAVE SPEAKERS? Poems can have characters just as other literary works do. Not every poem, (or every essay or novel) is autobiographical in nature. Poems can be just as fictional as other works. IS IT THE SPEAKER OR THE POET? Some poems are autobiographical. To be certain whether the poet speaks from his or her own experience, you must be familiar with the life experience of the poet. Superficial study of the poet (reaching only as deep as the poet’s name, gender, birth date and gender) is insufficient to substantiate a claim that every word in a poem represents an actual event in the poet’s life. SPEAKER VS. POET Be careful when studying poetry not to attribute the emotions or events experienced by the speaker to the poet, him- or herself. Sometimes we have strong biographical evidence linking the speaker to the poet, in which case you might quote and cite that information to make your case; however, for the purpose of this class, you should mentally divorce the speaker from the poet.