Thursday, June 18, 2009

Music and Poetry

Not too long ago someone attempted to interest people in his poetry workshop by advertising the similarities between music and formal or metered poetry, hoping to trade, I suppose, on the relatively easy access of music compared to the more "difficult pleasure” of poetry. Alfred Corn in The Poem's Heartbeat: A Manual of Prosody opposes this by arguing for the fundamental differences between the two art forms. “Music," he writes, "consists of a series of notes at assigned pitches sounded at designated intervals of time.” Pitch in poetry, by contrast, is sounded not by the poet, but by the reader, and often varies from one person to the next. With limited control over pitch, poets must turn to other resources to express themselves.

What poetry and music both use are accents "to divide passing time into measurable units." The difference, says Corn, is that music provides "a precise notation of that division in a way that poetry does not.” Music employs beats with a fixed number of these within a bar, the first beat being the strongest, something poetry does not do (and only infrequently employing an initial strong beat at the beginning of a line). Poetry relies instead on the “variable energy required to articulate syllables of each word” coupled to the regular occurrence of accent.

Music composers provide separate rhythmic notation; poets do not. “In poetry, rhythmic notation is fused with the actual words of poems themselves.” Read by a single voice, poetry does not provide an equivalent to musical harmony. Nor does it employ timbre as music does - timbre in poetry depending on the arbitrary quality of the speaker’s voice. Poetry appeals instead to the ear "based on the interplay between vowels and consonants and their noticeable recurrence.” Corn stresses, however, that poetry remains "primarily concerned with the regulation of rhythmic accent.”

In short, the differences between poetry and music far outweigh their similarities. Will this stop people from continuing to draw positive comparisons between the two? Not likely. Scholars will remind us that the word “feet” to describe the division of a poetic line has its roots in ancient Greek poetry, which was accompanied by music and dance. Harmony undoubtedly will continue to be used to describe elements of poem, if only in a figurative sense. And no doubt we’ll continue to hear people talk about a poem’s “pitch” if only in a looser and more general way to describe heightened moments within the overall text.

The focus here has been on metered poetry. Others have interesting things to say about the relation between music and free verse. More later.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So good topic really i like any post talking about Ancient Greece but i want to say thing to u Ancient Greece not that only ... you can see in Ancient Greece The fourth century and more , you shall search in Google and Wikipedia about that .... thanks a gain ,,,


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