Music and tears

My further readings in The Music Lover’s Poetry Anthology remind me how very difficult it is to capture the power and beauty of music in words. Even the most descriptive and lively words cannot truly invoke the feeling of a Mozart symphony, a Bach concerto. That is part of the joy of music. We hear it with our ears. We feel it in our soul.

That being said, the editors did choose some very successful poems for this collection. In “Music,” Charles Baudelaire describes music in relation to the sea.

I run before the wind as if I had
      laid on full sail,
climbing the mountainous backs of the waves

From “Music by Charles Baudelaire

It’s a lovely poem, and reminds me of a favorite poem from childhood. I would sit on my grandmother’s sofa and page through her books: a series of Student Readers, humor books (Erma Bombeck and Andy Rooney), and a few slim volumes of poetry with muted landscape pictures opposite each poem.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea’s face, and a gray dawn breaking.

800px-asilomar_state_beach_breaking_wave_011from “Sea Fever” by John Masefield 

It is a well-known poem about adventure and discovery and the romance of exotic places. And for a young girl trapped on a farm in the middle of nowhere – or so I thought at the time – it was magic.

Another very effective poem in The Music Lover’s Poetry Anthology is Anne Porter’s “Music.” As a child, she listens to her mother play piano and sing and is so moved that she cannot help but weep.

For there was in her singing
A shy yet solemn glory
My smallness could not hold

Why is it that music
At its most beautiful
Opens a wound in us
An ache a desolation
Deep as homesickness
For some far-off
And half-forgotten country

from “Music” by Anne Porter

But speaking of weeping… I read some of these poems sitting on a CTA train late at night, huddling into my hat and coat and mittens against the subzero Chicago temperatures. I read Lisel Mueller’s “Joy” once through, paused and read it again. And as I began the third stanza, tears began to mist my eyes. I was happy the train car was mostly empty – not because I would have been embarrassed to have anyone see me cry – but because it was a private moment. I did not want to share with anyone else.

But it happened again. It happens
when we make bottomless love – 
there follows a bottomless sadness
which is not despair
but its nameless opposite.
It has nothing to do with the passing of time.
It’s not about loss. It’s about 
two seemingly parallel lines
suddenly coming together
inside us, in some place
that is still wilderness.

Joy, joy the sopranos sing,
reaching for the shimmering notes
while our eyes frill with tears. 

from “Joy” by Lisel Mueller

My reaction was personal, but the feelings are universal. Even if you do not weep, I hope you are moved. Now, go listen to some music!

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