Music's Spell: Poems about Music and Musicians

Music's Spell: Poems about Music and Musicians

by Emily Fragos (Editor)


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Music's Spell: Poems about Music and Musicians by Emily Fragos

Music may be the universal language that needs no words—the “language where all language ends,” as Rilke put it—but 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 García Lorca, and the jazz rhythms of Langston Hughes; Wallace Stevens on Mozart and Thom Gunn on Elvis—the 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307270924
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/31/2009
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 1,220,848
Product dimensions: 4.43(w) x 6.50(h) x 0.71(d)

About the Author

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.

Read an Excerpt


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

Table of Contents


William Shakespeare From The Tempest
William Congreve From The Mourning Bride
Rainer Maria Rilke To Music
Walt Whitman “That music always round me”
Percy Bysshe Shelley Two Fragments:
Music And Sweet Poetry
To Music
John Dryden From A Song for St Cecilia’s Day
William Butler Yeats A Crazed Girl
Walter De La Mare Music
Amy Lowell Music
Robert Herrick To Music, to Becalm His Fever
Samuel Taylor Coleridge From The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Elizabeth Bishop Sonnet
John Milton From At a Solemn Musick
Robert Herrick To Musick
Walt Whitman A Song of Joys
Samuel Taylor Coleridge From Dejection: An Ode
Ben Jonson “Slow, slow, fresh fount”
Czeslaw Milosz In Music
George Herbert Church-Musick
Henry Vaughan The Morning Watch
Elizabeth Barrett Browning Perplexed Music
Thomas Nabbes From Microcosmus
Alexander Pope From Ode on St Cecilia’s Day
Homer From The Odyssey
Emily Dickinson “The fascinating chill that music leaves”
Alfred, Lord Tennyson From The Lotus-Eaters
William Wordsworth Sonnet: Inside of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge
Robert Herrick Soft Music
William Blake “Piping down the valleys wild”
Lord Byron From Don Juan
Jalaluddin Rumi Where Everything is Music
William Shakespeare From The Merchant of Venice

Langston Hughes Juke Box Love Song
Percy Bysshe Shelley To –
William Shakespeare From Twelfth Night
Thomas Campion “Follow your saint, follow with accents sweet”
Paul Laurence Dunbar An Old Memory
Tomas Tranströmer C Major
Eugenio Montale “Your hand was trying the keyboard”
Conrad Aiken Music I Heard
William Shakespeare “Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?”
Dante Gabriel Rossetti Song and Music
Thomas Carew Celia Singing
William Shakespeare From The Taming of the Shrew
Conrad Aiken From The House of Dust: A Symphony
Thomas Hardy The Fiddler
Richard Lovelace Gratiana, Dancing and Singing
Philip Sidney From Verses
Wildred Owen Music
Richard Barnfield To His Friend Master R. L., in Praise of Music and Poetry
Andrew Marvell The Fair Singer
William Shakespeare “How oft when thou, my music, music play’st”
Lord Byron From Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

Denis Johnson
Allen Ginsberg First Party at Ken Kesey’s with Hell’s Angels
Thom Gunn Painkillers
Joyce Carol Oates Waiting on Elvis, 1956
Cornelius Eady The Supremes
David Wojahn Woody Guthrie Visited By Bob Dylan: Brooklyn State Hospital, New York, 1961
Zbigniew Herbert Mr Cogito and Pop
Robert Phillips The Death of Janis Joplin
Paul Muldoon From Sleeve Notes

Marie Ponsot
Strong, Off Route 209
Ntozake Shange Mood Indigo
Sterling D. Plump Eleven
Kamau Braithwaite Trane
Gregory Corso For Miles
Rita Dove Canary
Langston Hughes The Weary Blues
Yusef Komunyakaa Woman, I Got the Blues
Robert Hayden Homage to the Empress of the Blues
Charles Simic Bed Music

W. H. Auden
The Composer
Charles Baudelaire Music
Wallace Stevens Mozart, 1935
Jaroslav Seifert Bach Concerto
Emily Fragos The Scarlatti Sun
Mary Oliver Robert Schumann
Tomas Tranströmer Allegro
Alexander Pope From The Dunciad
Gerard Manley Hopkins Henry Purcell
Anna Akhmatova Music
Tomas Tranströmer An Artist in the North
Adam Zagajewski Seventeen
Frank O’Hara On Rachmaninoff’s Birthday
Amy Lowell From Chopin
Sidney Lanier From To Richard Wagner
Emma Lazarus From Chopin
Frank O’Hara Poulenc

Benjamin Ivry
A Prayer Against Strauss’ “Salomé,” 1900
Oscar Wilde Sonnet on Hearing the Dies Irae Sung in the Sistine Chapel
Colette Inez Listening To Dvořák’s Serenade in E
Adrienne Rich The Ninth Symphony of Beethoven Understood at Last as a Sexual Message
Amy Lowell From Stravinsky’s Three Pieces “Grotesques,” for String Quartet
Thomas Hardy Lines: To a Movement in Mozart’s E-Flat Symphony
W. S. Gilbert From The Major-General’s Song
Jan Zwicky Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet in B Minor, Op. 115
Sara Teasdale A Minuet of Mozart’s
James Merrill The Victor Dog
Sidney Lanier From The Symphony
Emily Fragos Bach Fugue
Oscar Wilde The Harlot’s House

Walt Whitman
From The Mystic Trumpeter
Hafiz “When the violin”
Adam Zagajewski Cello
D. H. Lawrence Piano
Sean Singer The Clarinet
Federico García Lorca The Guitar
Edgar Allan Poe From The Bells
Emily Brontë “Harp of wild and dream like strain”
Henry Purcell/Nahum Tate From Come Ye Songs of Art
Samuel Taylor Coleridge From The Aeolian Harp
Thomas Wyatt “Blame not my lute”
André Chénier The Flute
Rabindranath Tagore From Fruit-Gathering
Amy Lowell From The Cremona Violin
Walt Whitman “The tongues of violins!”
Alfred, Lord Tennyson From The Princess
Georg Trakl Trumpets
Zbigniew Herbert Violin
Christopher Smart From Julilate Agno
Walt Whitman Beat! Beat! Drums!
John Milton From Il Penseroso
Walt Whitman “I heard you solemn-sweet pipes of the organ”
W. S. Merwin To the Sorrow String
William Shakespeare From Hamlet

Thomas Campion
Constantine Cavafy Singer
Wislawa Szymborska Coloratura
James Merrill From The Ring Cycle
Walt Whitman Italian Music in Dakota
Amy Lowell From An Opera House
Walt Whitman From Proud Music of the Storm
Robert Herrick Upon Julia’s Voice
William Wordsworth The Solitary Reaper
Thomas Campion “When to her lute Corinna sings”
Vachel Lindsay How a Little Girl Sang
Owen Feltham Upon a Rare Voice
Lord Byron From Don Juan
Seamus Heaney The Singer’s House
Samuel Taylor Coleridge On a Volunteer Singer

Louise Bogan
Adam Zagajewski Death of a Pianist
David Wagoner The Singing Lesson
Billy Collins Piano Lessons
Joshua Sylvester Variable
Dante Gabriel Rossetti Ballata
W. S. Merwin The Notes
Carole Oles To a Daughter at Fourteen Forsaking the Violin

W. B. Yeats The Players Ask for a Blessing on the Psalteries and on Themsleves
William Shakespeare From Richard II
John Donne From Hymne to God My God, in My Sicknesse
Samuel Johnson An Epitaph Upon the Celebrated Claudy Philips, Musician, Who Died Very Poor
Rainer Maria Rilke (Music)
William Shakespeare From The Tempest
Thomas Hardy In a Museum
Chang-Wou-Kien The Pavilion of Music
Rainer Maria Rilke From The Sonnets to Orpheus
John Keats From Ode on a Grecian Urn
Charles Stuart Calverly From Changed
Alfred, Lord Tennyson From Idylls of the King
John Keats From To Autumn
Osip Mandelstam “Leaves scarcely breathing”
Rainer Maria Rilke “The sublime is a departure”

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