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In a narrative poem, the entity telling the story is called the narrator. The narrator is different from the author, in that the author is the real person who wrote the poem, while the narrator is a fictional entity that "lives inside" the poem. As such, author and narrator can be completely different "people".

Is there an equivalent term to refer to the character who "speaks" in a lyric poem? For example, in Shakespeare's Sonnet 18:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

How do you call the "I" who wonders whether he should compare his lover to a summer's day?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Quoting from here:

image of the last Dutchess

Persona as a literary term refers to the narrator or speaker of the poem, not to be confused with the author — a narrative voice other than the poet tells the entire poem. When the poet creates a character to be the speaker, that character is called the persona and the poet imagines what it is like to enter someone else’s personality. A good example of this is in Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess”, where the persona is the Duke of Ferrara.

The term speaker is perhaps more appropriate when referring to a poem, as a narrator may be confused with either the person interpreting the poem, or the narrator of a novel. However, it always depends on how you intend to use the term.

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The term is narrator. You don't need to look any further than that.

From NOAD:

narrator |ˈnarātər|
noun
a person who narrates something, esp. a character who recounts the events of a novel or narrative poem.

Sometimes people will refer to "the poet," but that is not really accurate, since the poem may not be intended to be spoken from the actual poet's perspective, but instead by a character or voice the poet creates. Sometimes the voice or character is referred to as "the speaker," especially in the case of dramatic monologues (e.g., Browning's "My Last Duchess").

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In college, we used "speaker" more than "narrator" when discussing poetry, for what it's worth. –  onomatomaniak Sep 28 '11 at 6:10
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I'd use speaker for Browning's "My Last Duchess" and narrator for Vikram Seth's "The Golden Gate", say. The speaker is clearly present throughout Browning's poem, while for Seth's, he is mostly in the background, and occasionally comments on something. –  Peter Shor Sep 28 '11 at 12:27

You can call the narrator a persona.

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