Speaking Otherwise: Rita Dove’s Poetics of Speech and Silence


Even a cursory glance at the titles and opening lines of number of poems in Rita Dove’s collection entitled Museum will alert the reader to her preoccupation with the premises of speech and language (The Hill Has Something to Say: “but isn’t talking”; Catherine of Alexandria: “Deprived of learning and/ the chance to travel,/ no wonder sainthood/ came as a voice”; Catherine of Siena: “You walked the length of Italy/ to find someone to talk to.“; Shakespeare Say: “He drum the piano wood, crowing”; Anti-Father: “Contrary to/ tales you told us”; Flirtation: “After all, there’s no need/ to say anything”; Exeunt the Viols: “with their throb and yearn, their sad/ stomach of an alley cat. Listen:// even the ocean mourns the passage/ of voices so pure and penetrant...”) [1] . I wish to examine two of the poems contained in the volume, both of which illustrate the privilege that attends speech and the terrors that may haunt it. Both poems contemplate issues of embodiment and transfiguration, and the interlocking (and inextricable) notions of power and subjugation. Death is a governing motif in each of them. They also resemble one another in their incorporation of footnotes into the larger bodies of the poems, a move that anchors each of them in a specific historical and geographical context.