Modern Poetry in Modern Music.
“In 1986, Sofia Gubaydulina read the Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot, an experience which she described as “shattering.” She composed a work inspired by the concerns of the poems which she called “an effortless bridge into music.”(c)
Many years ago, when my younger sister was accepted into a children’s School of Music, I felt very happy for her: studying to play a musical instrument looked so exciting for me, but I was already too big to start and too busy with my homework in my regular school. We did not have much choice of an instrument because a piano was too big for our apartment and too expensive. My parents liked a violin since it was small, but a violin was already popular and the only instrument left was the cello.
Nevertheless, I did not mind a new duty assigned to me as a big sister: walking my sister to school and carrying her heavy cello. I was expected to wait by the door of her class for her lesson to end and bring her and her instrument back home.
Our parents were working, and we were expected to do all of our homework by the time they would return from work. The difficult life of an older sibling! Envious in the deepest part of my heart, I became a good inspiration for my little sister who very often would lose her patience or simply became tired, but I would abuse my right to supervise her and made her start practicing over and over again.
As a result, I learned all the names of the composers and their famous pieces she learned during those first four years, especially the pieces she practiced more often while preparing for school concerts.
Eventually, she graduated from this children’s school of music with very good grades, and all of her instructors recommended further studies which she refused, preferring chemistry to music. Later though, she admitted that doing this extra work -practicing music everyday – taught her to become a very organized and disciplined person.
All these classical musical works she used to play stayed in my memory: every time I hear a cello playing it reminds me of these walks to school of music, a heavy instrument in my hand, the long afternoons in my childhood home when I was the only listener of my sister’s music.
I’ve looked back at each of the poems and poets we’ve gone over this semester, and I find myself captured by Yeats’ words in “Adam’s Curse:”
We sat grown quiet at the name of love.
We saw the last embers of daylight die
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell
Washed by time’s waters as they rose and fell
About the stars and broke in days and years.
This is just a beautiful image. I can see the friends growing quiet after an intense conversation regarding poetry and crafting line by line. The hill – the sky – the quiet yet comfortable silence between them just lingers in my mind.
The “Infinitely gentle Infinitely suffering thing” Eliot refers to is his imagination that is bombarded by the images of the suffering of man. Eliot explains he is twisted by the images of his imagination. He describes man’s suffering as : His soul stretched tight across the skies/That fade behind a city block, which is possibly a result of the industrial revolution that spawned the creation of towering buildings that engulfs man into obscurity, Or trampled by insistent feet/At four and five and six o’clock which suggest the death of man because he becomes a cog in the machine that powers modern society and also as: And evening newspapers and eyes/ Assured of certain certainties that suggest the blinding of propaganda and misinformation. This stanza foreshadows the death of man.
“What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow / Out of this stony rubbish? / Son of man, / You cannot say, or guess, for you know only / a heap of broken images,”
I absolutely love these lines. This second stanza returns to the tone of the opening lines, describing an almost barren, desolate place of “stony rubbish” –sterile, lacking life, essentially the “waste land” of the poem’s title. It encompasses what we have learned about modernity in class. When I read these lines I heard Professor Gharabegian voice in my head, channeling Eliot as she often does in class. Lol!
“A Postcard from the Volcano” is a short poem that discusses a big theme like mortality. It expresses a loss that is too massive to take in at once and the speaker is over whelmed in the poem. It’s the anxiety that comes with modernity. It’s the despair one feels when change for the better does not happen. I thought it was very powerful the way the speaker looks into the future, and is speaking to another generation (“children”) while looking back at the present one. It’s a bit eerie. “Postcard” takes a long look at the future and is dwelling on it. He imagines future children as ignorant of their past as we are ignorant of today’s past.