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Featured Poem: That Music Always Round Me by Walt Whitman

Written by jen, 22nd February 2010

I have a confession to make: music is, and always has been, my first love in life. Reading comes a very close second, but a passion for music has been instilled in me ever since vinyl records were played to me to get me off to sleep as a baby, through to the cheesy-pop filled days of my early teenage years, up to the present day where I dabble in a bit of everything, but my tastes generally lie in the alternative direction. As I’ve got older, songs have transformed for me from something to dance and sing along to (rather badly, in the case of singing) to things to be appreciated on a much deeper level. They can be at times an intense form of expression, something to console in times of despair and an accompaniment in times of joy, are even an art form. Considering this, music and poetry are close cousins.

The link between the two was revived in the public eye recently, perhaps in a controversial way, when Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy declared the Arctic Monkeys to be modern-day poets. For some, this comparison adds fuel to the fire that poetry is being increasingly ‘dumbed down’, needing to have an arguably more popular relation in order to appear relevant to a younger audience. In my opinion the connection isn’t necessarily bad, even though I personally don’t class the Arctic Monkeys to be the most poetic band of the current scene. Alex Turner certainly isn’t a Tennyson, and while they’re more likely to talk about late night rendezvous in nightclubs and the occasional run-in with the law as opposed to anything more quintessentially Romantic, their lyrics certainly do paint a picture. When this picture encapsulates the life experiences of so many then surely, there is something of the poetic there, even if it isn’t quite conventional.

Of course, like so many things in life – indeed, as it is with poetry – it’s entirely subjective and all down to personal taste. I have quite an obsession with lyrics and find myself often not so much listening to a song as analysing its lyrical content. It just fascinates me how singular words can be placed together to say something quite profound and beautiful, in poetry and music alike. There are certain bands and musicians who for me write lyrics that are so eloquent and striking that they wouldn’t be out of place in a poem. To be so personally affecting and to sum up a feeling in a way you could hardly even begin to imagine – that’s where both songs and poetry succeed above no other. This week’s featured poem, a celebration of music in itself, puts it rather nicely by highlighting the notions of emotion and, perhaps especially importantly, understanding – by reading poetry and listening to songs, we come some way to knowing those behind them more intimately. Very often, we find out more about ourselves through them too.

That Music Always Round Me

That music always round me, unceasing, unbeginning--yet long untaught
I did not hear;
But now the chorus I hear, and am elated;
A tenor, strong, ascending, with power and health, with glad notes of
day-break I hear,
A soprano, at intervals, sailing buoyantly over the tops of immense
A transparent bass, shuddering lusciously under and through the
The triumphant tutti--the funeral wailings, with sweet flutes and
violins--all these I fill myself with;
I hear not the volumes of sound merely--I am moved by the exquisite
I listen to the different voices winding in and out, striving,
contending with fiery vehemence to excel each other in emotion;
I do not think the performers know themselves--but now I think I
begin to know them.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

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