'Thou Breath of Autumn's Being': Voicing Masculinity in the Poetry of Late Life

by Jonathon Shears

10 Aug 2023
Journal of the British Academy
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Abstract: This article argues that lyric poetry is a form suited to contesting dominant ideas about masculinity because of its thematic and formal preoccupations with voice. It argues that voice offers a different way of viewing the social constrictions that accompany male experiences of ageing to the well-known theory of the mask of ageing. Through a study of a long history of Western lyric verse, which includes writers such as William Shakespeare, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, W. B. Yeats, Robert Frost and Philip Larkin, the article explores the significance of restricted breathing in relation to dominant norms of masculine reticence and the physiological deterioration of the vocal profile in age. It then explores the possibility of counter-voicings of masculinity in poems with intergenerational themes from a group of post-war British poets.

Keywords: ageing; masculinity; lyric poetry; voice; reticence; silence

Article posted to the Journal of the British Academy, volume 11, supplementary issue 2 (Narratives of Old Age and Gender: Multi-disciplinary Perspectives)

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