Description: Hi! I suggest that you skip these remarks until you've read the poem. If you're intrigued by the references to Auden and Cummings, you can read more about them here after.
So, Auden wrote an interesting prose piece called "Dichtung und Wahrheit" (don't worry, it's not in German ;-). Number five in this says:
If I were a composer, I believe I could produce a piece of music which would express to a listener what I mean when I think the word love, but it would be impossible for me to compose it in such a way that he would know that this love was felt for You (not for God, or my mother, or the decimal system). The language of music is, as it were, intransitive, and it is just this intransitivity which makes it meaningless for a listener to ask — "Does the composer really mean what he says, or is he only pretending?".
The reference to Cummings is double. First to his wonderful piece "A poet's advice to students", which any aspiring poet must read (This is the most important part, not the whole thing):
"A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feelings through words. This may sound easy. It isn't. A lot of people think or believe or know they feel — but that's thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling — not knowing or believing or thinking. Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you're a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you're nobody-but-yourself. To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn't a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time — and whenever we do it, we are not poets."
And, second, his lovely poem "since feeling is first":
since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world
my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
lady i swear by all flowers. Don't cry
-- the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids' flutter which says
we are for each other; then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life's not a paragraph
And death i think is no parenthesis
I'm also quite proud (as a linguist) to have gotten the words "intransitive, syntax, and semantics" into a poem ;-)
Music and Words -------------------------------------------
Music and Words
You said that music cannot lie
while words permit deceit,
a melody reveals the soul.
Correct but ... incomplete.
For music is intransitive,
as Auden pointed out,
expressing feelings faithfully
but not what they're about.
If I were Mozart I might sing
just what I mean by 'love'.
But without phrases how to say
it's you I'm thinking of?
And music has no 'there' nor 'then',
no 'what if?' no 'perhaps'.
Emotions of the here and now
in timeless truth it traps.
"Feeling is first", as Cummings said,
and common words but tell
of knowledge, thought, belief banal:
for love a swarming hell.
Yet there are provinces of feeling,
beyond the here and now,
that only syntax and semantics
will readily avow.
My verse is but a weak attempt
to keep the compass right
between the reefs of commonplace
and music's ideal flight.
Since you are you and I am me
this compact I propose:
Envelope me in music sweet,
just add a rose of prose.
I've been following your work when I can and I felt I could best sum up my thoughts on many of them by coming out and commenting on this particular poem.
Sonnets . . . metrical poetry, well you know these are old forms and they have their place, but to me they are mechanical forms and I never could quite get myself to think let alone fall in love with iambs and anapests and blah be blahs, googagoos. Poetry should be timeless yet rooted in its own time, and far too many sonnets and the like come across as horribly anachronistic and banal. One should never confuse imitation with art. The desire to express oneself is, however, noble, and even Picasso mastered the forms before he turned to the surreal pathworks of his famous work.
So, what's my point?
I guess what I am saying is I'd love to see you stretch yourself into other forms, maybe pick up a copy of the New Book of Forms if you don't have one, and go after some of those if you love the structure. To me there's validity in any structure, so long as it doesn't prove an ill container for your thoughts. Sometimes you try to cram 10 liters into a 5 liter jar, but more often than not, it rings untrue, forced, and loses me as a reader.
On the metaphorical level . . . again, I say that Auden, Mozart, Cummings, roses, and the transpositioning of words like "music sweet" make me want to punch the screen.
You have much to say and I would beg you to find a way to say it in the world you see around you, stretch your wings, and fly.
The overall impression I get from this poem is one of a pleasing tune but more of something heard in the background. A tune that accompanies a spring breeze but does not demand attention. I find that paradoxical, if the words are read for meaning I am enjoined to a discourse but the flow being of a light melody gives me the impression we are to place but little significance on the words themselves. Is this then referring to the intransitive nature of music and how music can affect our mood even effect a mood. One contrary to the nature of our circumstance. Or is it the intransitive nature of words to be so affected by music regardless of their meaning or any concrete nature they might otherwise possess, that their own musicality can belie their import. like an insult with a smile. Or a yes with a shrug. So in the end even if we pen words to music it seems to be the nature of music to overcome mere words. Which I then surmise makes the sound of a word and its interaction with the sounds of the words that surround it of the utmost importance to a poet. For regardless of what he says the music of saying it has the power to either enhance or detract from the meaning he wishes to convey. Well then this was a fascinating poem to have revealed all of that. I think I quite like it.
Wow, this is really great. Ugh... very great, indeed. The fact that you used a rhyme scheme... well, I don't think it would have worked to write a poem about words and music without the rhyme to give it that musical, rhythmic feel. I find no real fault in this at all, but there is one thing, and it's something I think you did for effect, but still, it doesn't sit quite right with me, and that would be the repitition of the words "here and now" in those two stanzas. I think they are too near each other. The echo of the first hasn't left me by time I arrive at the second, and therefore, to me, it sounds a bit awkward. But I'm sure this is a personal preference.
Beyond this though, I think this poem is splendid. How very true; and that's why we have songs--music and lyrics.
This was beautiful. The rhythm is excellent, and you have successfully used rhyme, which is a feat in and of itself. I know that this is just praise, with no constructive criticism, but I dont feel it needs critiquing.
Well, you should be prouder of the fact the poem overall ‘works’, more than the fact that you got “syntax”, etc. into it. This is one of your better writes. One of the problems of rhyme / meter is the difficulty of expressing feeling well within the confines of their regular structure; and also to keep the structure from distorting the essentially unstructured nature of emotion. In other words, to use a structure of logic to express unstructured, often illogical, feelings. This poem expresses its thoughts well. You make your point effectively. It contains some phrases that are excellent, particularly the last line. All these are good things, which raise this above most poetry I’ve read. But does it fully convey emotion? Probably not. Shakespeare’s sonnets are nice, but they are more musical and clever than truly emotional. In summation, I like the poem, but disagree with the notion that poetry must convey well a feeling. Instead, it is often enough, as in this write, that the words tell us ABOUT feeling. The verses you quote in Cummins 2nd poem, in fact, are in free-verse. They convey feeling more than they would if they were ABOUT emotion. fred