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Poetry and Music WEEK 1 Song as Incantation: the Roots of Poetry.

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Presentation on theme: "Poetry and Music WEEK 1 Song as Incantation: the Roots of Poetry."— Presentation transcript:

1 Poetry and Music WEEK 1 Song as Incantation: the Roots of Poetry

2 “Why do we care about singers? Wherein lies the power of songs? Maybe we are just creatures in search of exaltation,... song shows us a world that is worthy of our yearning, it shows us ourselves as they might be, if we were worthy of the world.” — Salman Rushdie, The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999)

3 “Words make you think thoughts. Music makes you feel a feeling. But a song makes you feel a thought.” — E. Y. ‘Yip’ Harburg

4 E. Y. ‘Yip’ Harburg (1896 – 1981)

5 “ [is] the form in which magic survives down to our day....the affinity between music and magic is rooted in their very both, man’s sense of being at one with the world outweighs his sense of being distinct from it: what links man to man, man to thing, and thing to thing outweighs what separates them.” — Victor Zuckerkandl, Man the Musician (1973)

6 “the origins of music can be traced to man’s anxiety in the face of the hostility of Nature which he interprets as being due to savage spirits who have to be appeased with incantations, which can be used both as an offensive and a defensive weapon.” — Jules Combarieu, Music and Magic (1909)

7 Orpheus, the Thracian poet whose songs could tame the wild beasts

8 ghoti

9 Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, (1194 – 1250)


11 Joseph Lycett (ca.1775 – 1828), Aborigines Resting by a Camp Fire near the Mouth of the Hunter River, Newcastle, NSW

12 Wanatjalnga, 1974, Charlie Tjaruru (Tarawa Tjungurrayi)



15 David Byrne, singer/songwriter, etc. (born 1952) “…birth songs, lullabies, naming songs, toilet training songs (I want to hear those!), puberty songs, greeting songs, marriage songs, clan songs, funeral songs. A Sia Indian who lives in a pueblo in northern New Mexico said, ‘My friend, without songs you cannot do anything.’ Without music, the social fabric itself would be rent, and the links between us would crumble.” — How Music Works


17 Gaston Maspero, New Light on Ancient Egypt (1908): “The human voice is the instrument par excellence of the priest and of the enchanter. It is the voice that seeks afar the Invisibles summoned, and it makes the necessary objects into reality. Every one of the sounds it emits has a peculiar power which escapes the notice of the common run of mortals, but which is known to and made use of by the adepts. One note irritates, appeases, or summons the spirits; another acts on the bodies. By combining the two are formed those melodies which the magicians intone in the course of their evocations. But as every one has its peculiar force, great care must be taken not to change their order or substitute one for the other. One would thus expose oneself to the greatest misfortunes."

18 “…you need to do something to produce your voice, …you need to do something to heighten your language, to distinguish the activity that you’re taking part in from daily conversation—that’s basic to poetry.” James Fenton


20 Henri Michaux (1899 – 1984), photo by Claude Cahun

21 Jorge Luis Borges, (1899 –1986) “If we can read it silently, it is not a valid poem: a poem demands pronunciation. Poetry always remembers that it was an oral art before it was a written art. It remembers that it was first song.” — from a lecture on "The Divine Comedy," (1977)

22 Ezra Pound (1885 – 1972) “Poetry begins to atrophy when it gets too far from music.” — The ABC of Reading

23 “They quote Rossini’s remark, ‘Give me a laundry-list and I will set it,’ unaware, apparently, that a laundry-list, or any list for that matter, has a poetic value, and one which is exceptionally translatable into musical terms.” — Introduction to An Elizabethan Song Book, edited by Auden and Chester Kallman (1955) W. H. Auden, (1907 – 1973)

24 Lady Gaga (Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta), (b. 1986)

25 Louis Armstrong (1901 – 1971) Ella Fitzgerald (1917 – 1996)

26 “…in certain tribes the most celebrated songs are sung by people who do not understand the words. For the poet, the words of the song may very well have an independent signification; for others they only have a value when joined to a melody. Often, in fact, the sense of a song is sacrificed, without hesitation, to its form." — Jules Combarieu, Music and Magic

27 Orphée (Jean Marais) listening to the radio in Death’s Rolls Royce. Still from Orphée by Jean Cocteau (1950)

28 Lord Byron (1788 – 1824) in Albanian dress, painted by Thomas Phillips “To withdraw myself from myself has ever been my sole, my entire, my sincere motive in scribbling at all.”

29 Arthur Rimbaud, by Jean-Louis Forain (1872) “Je est un autre”

30 Octavio Paz (1914 – 1998) “No one is a poet unless he has felt the temptation to destroy language or create another one, unless he has experienced the fascination of non- meaning and the no less terrifying fascination of meaning that is inexpressible.”

31 Novalis (1772 – 1801), poet, author and philosopher of German Romanticism “...a very odd song, which... became very popular because it [the lyric] sounded so strange, nearly as obscure and unintelligible as the music itself, but for this very reason was incomprehensively fascinating and delightful as a dream to one awake.” — from the novel, Heinrich von Ofterdingen

32 The Delphic Oracle



35 Anthropologist Franz Boas (1858 – 1942 ) Shown posing for a figure in US Natural History Museum exhibit entitled Hamats'a coming out of secret room

36 “Nobody comes to give him his rum but the Rim of the sky hippopotamus-glum” —from When Sir Beelzebub, a lyric from Facade “Rap music was invented in England by Dame Edith Sitwell in 1922 when, perched atop a stepladder, she recited the poems of Facade through a megaphone over the musical accompaniment of her homeboy Sir William Walton. The words to the poems were chosen for their sound, colour and rhythm, and make very little sense. Having said that, they conjure up a sense of wonderment and weirdness – a bit like De La Soul. ” — John Moore on the Guardian Music Blog 30.1.07

37 Dame Edith Sitwell (1887 – 1964)


39 William Congreve, English playwright and poet, (1670 –1729) Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast, To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak. I've read, that things inanimate have mov'd, And, as with living Souls, have been inform'd, By Magick Numbers and persuasive Sound. The Mourning Bride, (1697)

40 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, 1646 - 1716 “Music is the pleasure the human mind experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting.”

41 Cymatics — “When a bow is drawn along the edge [of a metal plate covered with fine sand] there appear in the sand nodal lines and curious geometrical figures. Nature is not a musician and yet she composes : she has a plan and a method ; and she obeys inflexible laws.” Music, Its Laws and Evolution, by Jules Combarieu (1910)



44 Salman Rushdie onstage with Bono at a U2 concert in 1993

45 Rushdie and Cohen at the PEN New England Awards for Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence, February, 2012

46 Leonard Cohen and Chuck Berry backstage at the PEN New England Awards for Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence, February, 2012


48 Dylan Thomas, Vision and Prayer (1945)


50 Iron plate with an order 6 magic square in Arabic numbers from China, dating to the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).

51 Magic square — detail from Albrecht Dürer's Melencolia (1514)

52 Page from Athanasius Kircher's Oedipus Aegyptiacus (1653) from a treatise on magic squares Magic squares of order 3 through 9, assigned to the seven planets, and described as means to attract the Influence of planets and their angels (or demons) during magical practices.

53 Tone Row Matrix for Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite (1926)






59 Permutational poem by (Lady) Su Hui (C4th CE). The poem can be read forward or backwards, horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. This arrangement allows for 2848 different readings.

60 Asked, in an interview with Claude Bonnefoy in 1977, why he resorted to such contortions for the making of fiction, Perec replied: ‘Je me donne des règles pour être totalement libre.’ Georges Perec, plan for his novel, Life, A User’s Manual (1978)


62 James Taylor, American singer-songwriter, 1948 - “Music is true. An octave is a mathematical reality. So is a 5th. So is a major 7th chord. And I have the feeling that these have emotional meanings to us, not only because we're taught that a major 7th is warm and fuzzy and a diminished is sort of threatening and dark, but also because they actually do have these meanings. It's almost like it's a language that's not a matter of our choosing, it's a truth. The laws of physics apply to music, and music follows that. So it really lifts us out of this subjective, opinionated human position and drops us into the cosmic picture just like that.”

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