Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




I ask whether or not the Lyric can be defined solely in structural terms as a self-referential linguistic artifact, and if so, in what sense we should construe the poem’s relationship to the world and to knowledge. Using close readings of ancient and classical Greek epigrams, I first turn to Michael Riffaterre’s semiotics of poetry, in which it is proposed that the sign/signifier relationships generated in the text of poems can be exhausted in principle in an intertextual system of signs that makes no reference to the world. I then turn to Paul de Man, who suspects that Riffaterre may be conflating semiotics with interpretation in a rationalistic attempt to account fully for the nature of literary language. This critique serves as a bridge to a brief look at Thomist philosopher Jacques Maritain’s contention that the lyric poem displays both a rational correspondence to a linguistic system and a pre-rational connection to the body and soul. His comments are compared to those of Julia Kristeva, who asserts that the body itself is the matrix of signification and that this phenomenon is foregrounded in poetic language. This primal relationship of experience to language leads to an examination of Martin Heidegger’s advice to philosophers to “listen to the poets.” His contention that language is a gift of Being that comes to us through the poet is analyzed in the light of de Man’s criticism that Heidegger, in his eagerness to attain transcendence via language, oversteps the boundaries of legitimate philosophical inquiry. Then it is taken up in the context of Paul Ricoeur’s more generous appraisal that poetic language, understood as a form of linguistically innovative metaphor, can transcend semiosis to achieve a revelation of some new aspect of the world.