Speakers have attitudes toward themselves, their subjects, and their audience, and (consciously or unconsciously) they choose their words, pitch, and modulation accordingly; all these add up to the TONE. In written literature, tone must be detected without the aid of the ear; the reader must understand by the selection and sequence of words the way in which they are meant to be heard (that is, playfully, angrily, confidentially, sarcastically, etc.). The reader must catch what Frost calls “the speaking tone of voice somehow entangled in the words and fastened to the page of the ear of the imagination.”
Tone is the attitude toward a subject conveyed in a literary work. No single stylistic device creates tone; it is the net result of the various elements an author brings to creating the works, feeling, and manner. Tone may be playful, sarcastic, ironic, sad, solemn, or any other possible attitude. A writer’s tone plays an important role in establishing the reader’s relationship to the characters or ideas presented in a literary work.
To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time
Gather ye rosebuds, while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles,
Tomorrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and the worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time;
And while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
You may for ever tarry.
For A Lady I Know
She even thinks that up in heaven
Her class lies late and snores,
While poor black cherubs rise at seven
To do celestial chores
The man He Killed
“Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!
“But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.
“I shot him dead because –
He was my foe,
Just so; my foe of course he was;
That’s clear enough; although
“He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps,
Off-hand like – just as I –
Was out of work – had sold his traps-
No other reason why.
“Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat if met where any bar is,
Or help to half-a-crown.”
My Papa’s Waltz
The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.
We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother’s countenance
Could not unfrown itself.
The hand that held my wrist
Was bettered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.
You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.
Does the road wind uphill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.
But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.
Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at the door.
Shall I find comfort, travel sore and weak?
Of labor you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yes, beds for all who come.
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charact’ry,
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love – then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think,
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.
David R. Slavitt
Who does not love the Titanic?
If they sold passage tomorrow for that same crossing,
Who would not buy?
To go down…We all go down, mostly
done. But with crowds of people, friends, servants,
well fed, with music, with lights! Ah!
And the world, shocked, mourns, as it ought to do
and almost never does. There will be the books and movies
to remind our grandchildren who we were
and how we died, and give the good cry.
Not so bad, after all. The cold
water is unaesthetic and very quick.
The cries on all sides must be comfort.
We all go; only a few, first-class.
Whatever it is, it must have
A stomach that can digest
Rubber, coal, uranium, moons and poems.
Like the shark, it contains a shoe.
It must swim for miles through the desert
Uttering cries that are almost human.
 personal belongings