The Telephone

Jones Very, ‘The Telephone’
in Jones Very: The Complete Poems
edited by Helen R. Deese
(Athens: The University
of Georgia Press, 1993)
Composed: 1877

The marvel of our age, the Telephone!
What is the Telephone, do you inquire?
The marvel of our time, before unknown,
The human voice speaks through the electric wire!
The distant city hears the spoken word,
In waves of sound, transmitted o’er the line;
The notes of music in sweet strains are heard;
From Boston comes the song of ‘Auld Lang Syne.’
These triumphs o’er the world of space and time
The Telegraph and Telephone can show;
And Science now, with joy and faith sublime,
Doth a new gift upon the race bestow.
Beneath the ocean soon man’s voice may reach,
And a new power be given to human speech.

The American transcendentalist poet Jones Very composed ‘The Telephone’ on 23 February 1877, just a little under a year after Alexander Graham Bell was awarded his patent. Like many Americans at that time, the poet views the telephone as ‘the marvel of our age’: ‘The human voice speaks through the electric wire!’, he exclaims, praising the ‘notes of music in sweet strains’ heard down the line. The poem closes with his prophecy: ‘Beneath the ocean soon man’s voice may reach, / And a new power be given to human speech’.

Comprising three quatrains and a concluding couplet, this Shakespearean sonnet is typical of Very’s work. A scholar of Shakespeare, Very was admired in particular by Ralph Waldo Emerson for his poetry and criticism. However, he suffered a mental breakdown early in his career, believing himself to be a prophet; for this he was dismissed from his studies at Harvard and committed to an asylum. ‘The Telephone’ poem was written in the final years of his life, during which he lived with his sister in Salem.

by Sarah Jackson