On Saturday mornings, I get up early and write songs. I’ve been doing that for some quite time now and over the years, I sometimes feel like these songs just emerge from me like I were a vessel. In my book, The Unsaid Thoughts of a Quiet Man, I describe the process of having a striking thought, a vivid memory or a strong emotion and then developing it into something unexpected. It’s in these moments where I come to think about the alchemic nature of poetry and music.
Quintessentially, poems and music are cut from the same cloth: lines, verses, stanzas; rhyme, repetition, rhythm; simile, metaphor, imagery; mood, atmosphere; theme and purpose.[B1] It’s because of these connections between poetry and music that there’s an undeniable chemistry and even a supernatural brilliance in how well they can complement each other. Not only that, but as English composer Henry Purcell puts it in one of the most famous quotes about music and poetry, “As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.”
In ancient Greece, music and poetry were closely tied to each other and seamlessly interwoven into their culture. Boys were studying and reciting poems accompanied by the lyre. Epic poems where delivered during festivals. According to Friedrich Nietzsche, the two arts developed together and culminated into the Greek play. Apollo, god of the sun, poetry and music had sway over their everyday lives. According to the Getty Museum, there was even a time where Apollo’s temple was thought to be the center of the universe which illustrates how important these two art forms were in their society.
Today, poets and musicians may not be attributing their creations to supernatural forces but the ‘magic’ remains. Isaac Butler-Brown, in his thesis entitled Music’s Poetry, Poetry’s Music, “[Music and poetry] coexist on the same plane, and to intertwine and work together in a way that is fundamental to the human experience.”
Poems and songs still have the magic to manifest joy, to change the way we see the world, to save lives, to express what can’t be easily said, to empower us in suffering, and to accompany us through our fleeting existence. In the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Music is the universal language of mankind—poetry their universal pastime and delight.”
And with this, I’d like to ask: how has the magic of poetry and music touched your life? Share your thoughts on the comment section. You can also talk to me on Twitter. Feel free to visit my Facebook and Goodreads profiles for more updates from me.