English and Modern Languages


Master of Arts (MA)


Mark R. Harris

Primary Subject Area

Literature, American; Language, Linguistics


American poetry, Edgar Allan Poe, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, linguistics, Robert Frost


Poetry, because it is an art form, is compared to other arts such as painting and even architecture, but because the elements of poetry evince musical qualities, the comparison between poetry and music merits a greater degree of attention. While analyzing the musical elements of poetry is a fascinating study on its own, the purpose of analyzing the two art forms is to develop a greater understanding of each work as a whole. This includes understanding not only the the sum of the parts but also what is achieved beyond the sum. Although some elements of poetry are parallel to elements of music, a poem should not be termed "musical" unless all of its parts work together to promote the unity of the whole. Therefore, analyzing linguistic aspects of sound and structure in poetry as they relate to the content is necessary to determine whether or not poems are musical.
The American poets Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Frost, and Edna St. Vincent Millay succeed in writing poetry that can be deemed musical. Although these four distinct poets use various elements to communicate a variety of thematic content, their individual talents merge to form one trait they all share--the ability to balance repetition and variation in how sound, structure, and content relate to one another. In doing so, these poets produce works that are musical creations greater than the sum of their parts.