Thursday, June 18, 2009
Music and Poetry
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.
"Read the interviews with Hester Knibbe and Catherine Graham...they were wonderful. Refreshing to read such straightforward writing about poetry. Most helpful and will share with writing friends. Thank you for your work." Wendy Crumpler.
"Thank you David, for this resurrection, rebirth, reincarnation, return." Sharon Marcus
Intelligent poetic discourse." Linda Rogers