Of poetry and music

By Maria Montalvo | Jul 25, 2016

During especially confusing or difficult times, I turn to poetry and music for solace.

Man’s inhumanity to man has been particularly evident in recent months, or at least perhaps more visible to us. Both a poem and a song seem to make sense of loss or allow a pathway to retreat or provide a place to feel safe.

Poets are certainly more capable of describing the inexplicable than I am, and songwriters somehow capture exactly how we feel during critical moments.

The words of poetry and the lyrics of songs have overlapped for centuries. Before we wrote down our news and lessons, histories were shared as story songs. In order to be listened to and remembered, stories had to be put to rhythm.

To tell a story, lyrics were given a unique structure and rhyming stanzas to resonate within us and create a beat reminiscent of our heart. As literacy grew, personal stories became lyrics for songs meant to share feelings and praises. Aristotle and others differentiated poetry as art, judged by its quality and aesthetics. Both developed into mechanisms to help us express, emote, and feel.

Over the centuries, both grew as art forms and gained a larger place in our culture. For me, processing my sadness or anguish starts through the words of others before my own.

Early Arabic philosopher Al-Farabi taught the therapeutic effects of music on the soul as early as 930 AD. The Egyptians and Romans used “bibliotherapy,” or poetry therapy, in the 1200s.

And in the early 1900s, Langston Hughes brought all of this musical and poetic progress full circle, taking the blues and making it poetry. Hughes said that he took the “pulse beat of people who keep on going” despite extreme hardship, and created poems that reflected their human condition, their anguish, their strength. Through words and sound and music, not silence, people have endured pain.

These last days and weeks, I have tried to understand how to bring goodness from the violence of our day, how each human lost can somehow stay with us. As I listened to “Instant Karma,” John Lennon sang: “We all shine on, like the moon and the stars and the sun.”

It reminded me of Walt Whitman’s “On the Beach at Night”:

“They are immortal, all those stars both silvery and golden shall shine out again,

The great stars and the little ones shall shine out again, they endure,

The vast immortal suns and the long-enduring pensive moons shall again shine.”

During a long run (my other source of peace), I listened to the words of “Before the Rain” by Duran Duran: “In every life flash, in every car crash, I hear the silence waiting to fall.”

Like others before me, I, too, understand that falling into silence after great injustices and sadnesses cannot be the answer.

We should be inspired by our poets and lyricists, our singers and songwriters, to challenge ourselves to find our own words.

Speak to each other to find greater understanding, and not let the pain become quietly numb. As Hughes said, “I catch the pattern of your silence.”

Demand real conversations and actions to influence the inhumanities we are living through.



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