Guest Author - Jessica Smith
Music and poetry go together more ways than one. Most songs, for instance, are considered poems. They share many qualities- rhyme, alliteration, metaphor, simile, etc. Instrumental music, too, is similar to poetry through rhythm (meter) and the invocation of strong emotions in a short period of time. Music, unlike other art forms, does not use imagery to convey its themes. Music is invisible; the images it creates depend entirely upon the person. The experience, therefore, is highly individualized, which explains why music enjoyed by some is not enjoyed by others. It also ensures that any number of poems titled "Music" will not be the same. For example:
"Music" by A. S. J. Tessimond
This poem offers a description of music itself. It begins by addressing the fact that music isn't at all tangible, but instead "shape without space" and "pattern without stuff." It's everywhere, all-encompassing, but invisible. It not only "surrounds" but "flows through" as well. The poem continues, describing everything that music is "without" ("tears without eyes," "laughter without lips") yet the feeling from the poem is not one of lack but of immensity, of overflow. Music is everywhere, it is an ocean, it grips us like hand. The first stanza claims that it "leaves no mark," yet this is only partly true. Music, though absent in physical proof, exists, and in a meaningful way. Despite its formlessness, it is just about strong enough to carry us away.
"Music" by Walter de la Mare
The focus of this poem is the transformative power of music. "When music sounds," de la Mare writes, "gone is the earth I know." It transports him to a new place, perhaps even a higher level of being. Everything around him changes, becomes more fantastical, more beautiful. The flowers "flame" and the trees in the forest are "stilled with ecstasies." The music not only touches the listener, but the natural world around him. The plants respond to its magical properties, lifting up, becoming brighter, happier. In the next stanza, naiads (water spirits) are lured into view. This hints at the myth of Orpheus, who often charmed the natural spirits with his songs. These naiads are "rapt in strange dreams." The music is so powerful it even enchants these mythical beings. Or perhaps the naiads are people who surround the listener, and who have been transformed by the power of the music. The first line of the final stanza sums it up beautifully: "When the music sounds, all that I was I am". The notes have the power to transform, to draw things out, to emphasize the world around them.
"Music" by Stephen Vincent Benet
Rather than speak of music in general, this poem by Benet describes a particular, powerful incident, an encounter between the speaker and a piece of music. The speaker's friend sits down casually at the piano, then begins to play. The reader, like the speaker, is suddenly and irretrievably drawn into the force of the song. The line "His fingers swiped the keys that flashed like swords" grabs the reader with its bright, forceful imagery as securely as the sudden chord from a piano grabs any listener nearby. Instantly, the laid-back atmosphere is gone, replaced by the whirling frenzy of a military-style song. The listener imagines "brute drums of barbarian hordes" - an army of thunder and lightning, "dreadful with banners", "trampling and splendid." Benet offers an intensely vivid description, one that is heard, felt and seen by the reader, just as a moving piece of music might call up internal images of the mind. The song affects the listener so much that "The last chord shook me as wind shakes a harp!" Then, the music ends just as swiftly as it began, the energy of the poem drops off sharply. The listeners, unable to put into words the effect of the music, can only manage a feeble "How pretty!" and change the topic. After the crisp, earthshaking description earlier, the reader is left with a feeling of futility accompanying such a pitiful understatement.
These three poems, though all labeled "Music," touch on different aspects of music, from its characteristics in general to specific moments. Hundreds more "Music" poems exist, by classic, contemporary, well-known and brand-new poets. There is plenty to explore.