Music's Spell : Poems about Music and Musicians

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2009-03-31
  • Publisher: Everyman's Library

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Music may be the universal language that needs no wordsthe "language where all language ends," as Rilke put itbut that has not stopped poets from ancient times to the present from trying to represent it in verse. Here are Rumi and Shakespeare, Elizabeth Bishop and Billy Collins; the wild pipes of William Blake, the weeping guitars of Federico Garcia Lorca, and the jazz rhythms of Langston Hughes; Wallace Stevens on Mozart and Thom Gunn on Elvisthe range of poets and of their approaches to the subject is as wide and varied as music itself. The poems are divided into sections on pop and rock, jazz and blues, specific composers and works, various musical instruments, the human voice, the connection between music and love, and music at the close of life. The result is a symphony of poetic voices of all tenors and tones, the perfect gift for all musicians and music lovers.

Author Biography

Emily Fragos is an award-winning poet and editor of the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets anthologies The Great Cat: Poems About Cats and The Dance. She lives in New York City.



Hearts swell at the sound of a ravishing voice, a melancholy guitar, an oboe’s floating cry. Jazz riffs lead us through a maze of moods we recognize as our own perhaps for the first time. Shakespeare’s galloping horses stop in their tracks at the hearing of a captivating melody. Rock concerts with their waves and walls of sound release from pent-up bodies the deepest energies. How to explain the transformative, expressive power of music in our lives – this music we create with our own breath and our own hands?

Though music is a language without words – the ‘‘language where all language ends,’’ as Rilke has it – the impulse to explain it in words is an old and abiding one. The ancient Greeks believed that the planets produced ‘‘music of the spheres,’’ profoundly exquisite harmonies, as they revolved in their orbits. Thus, although we cannot hear these celestial sounds, our souls, attuned to harmony from birth, respond to music created on Earth. We are surrounded, inundated even, by music: ‘‘There’s music in all things, if men had ears:/Their earth is but an echo of the spheres,’’ wrote Lord Byron.

Poets in particular have been drawn to try to translate music’s spell into verbal form, perhaps because theirs is also an art in which the expressive qualities of sound and rhythm and unspoken resonances play a role.

This much is certain: music is all important to the human race. It has the power and the charm to move, disturb, sadden, gladden, bring consolation, celebration, salvation.We remember the stages of our lives by the music we heard, sang, danced to. Children’s songs we pass on from generation to generation as soothing lullabies.We work and play and love and pray to music.

‘‘Without music,’’ Frederick Nietzsche said, ‘‘life would be a mistake.’’ It would be a world without harmony, without singing and dancing – and without poetry, that legacy of the first poet-musician, Orpheus, who with his lyre, so goes the myth, first stirred the soul and bestowed upon the struggling world the sweet power of music.

Emily Fragos

Excerpted from Music's Spell: Poems about Music and Musicians
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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