The tone of someone’s voice is very important in understanding exactly how they want you to interpret what they are saying. Compare for instance, your teacher when they roar ‘WHAT ON EARTH ARE DOING?’ with your friends when they enquire ‘What on earth are you doing?’ You know that the second one is a question whereas the first one really isn’t. The teacher’s tone of voice lets you know that, although what they’re saying looks like a question on paper, it’s actually more like a statement telling you to stop what you are doing right now. Indeed the teacher would probably not be pleased if you answered their question and would probably take it as a sign that you were being cheeky thus getting you into even more trouble.
The same is true in writing. The writer’s tone will tell you whether they are wondering, denying, accusing, preaching, confessing or whatever.
Some poems are written as if the writer is speaking confidentially to their friends. Others may be very direct or almost aggressive. In the following poem Dylan Thomas writes as someone desperately urging the reader to listen and take advice about coping with old age before it’s too late. He is being instructive, telling his reader how to behave:
Do not go gentle into that goodnight.
Old age should bun and rave at close of day.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
In the last stanza of Dulce et Decorum Est (part of a Latin phrase which roughly translates as 'It is a good thing to die for your country') Wilfred Owen personally accuses his reader, challenging their thinking by directly addressing them and insisting that if they had seen what Owen had seen when he was fighting in the trenches in World War One they would not believe that war is a brave and honourable thing.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,-
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.