If music can be said to be about anything, it is, of all the arts, the one most conspicuously about time. As such, it also becomes about loss, and, as Twitchell’s poem suggests, we feel this loss most acutely when the music is “good”—that is, when it earns both our affection and regret as it passes. One of the distinguishing paradoxes of music is that it can seem both so immediate in its persuasive power, so direct in the way it speaks to us, and yet so elusive, invisible and evanescent. If all beloved music, however celebratory, is sad, it is equally true that this sadness is not the paralyzing grief of deep resignation. While continually disappearing, music is likewise in a constant state of anticipation. Even the ends of musical phrases anticipate a certain quality of silence or listener’s response. Music thus offers itself as both metaphor and embodiment of the amorous imagination, desirous of always the next needful thing. When we listen, our attention is, as a result, ceaselessly divided between the last musical event and the one to come. So it is curious that this medium made of time is precisely that which would serve as so therapeutic in allaying the anxieties and grief associated with time. Odd, how music summons and consoles us in times of dread, confusion, remorse, and personal loss. It is as though we had cut to the core of the temporal problem at the heart of uncertainty and made of it a blessing. There, there, says the music, there, there.
It is perhaps ironic that postmodernism would signal for many a turning away from the lyric tradition, when the more useful contributions of theory might embrace the slippery nature of poetic language as something akin to a musical event. Given a postmodern emphasis on language in all its flux and irresolvable desire, poets raised in the recent philosophical climate might well look to music as metaphor for language’s instabilities, for that poetic possibility of language animated by the amorous imagination, ever looking for ways to accommodate a world beyond its reach, to redeem what can never be redeemed, to speak what can never be spoken. To speak is thus to experience a falling away from being, a slippage akin to something musical wherein the power of expression lies in a renewing sense of loss and deferral. Moreover the miracle of language like that of music is the fullness of association it can suggest in spite of the fact that some absent presence in each summons from a distance. Language, like music, lays down a bridge made of a distance to be bridged.
In both poetry and music, part of the pleasure and sustenance we find in both forms stems from their failures. Neither captures the fullness of being in symbolic form. Neither fires back at the world with the force of a gun, nor feeds the hungry, nor houses the poor. The paradox remains however that poetry and music satisfy some spiritual hunger, and that this hunger can be most acute in a culture under stress. Music appears to feed the will, to plead with it in its native tongue. Poetry too transmutes its failures into imaginative abundance, its losses into an opportunity for renewal. Like music, poetry is best measured not by its power to systematically explain but by its power to affirm, in spite and in light of uncertainty, to inspire not so much final understanding as belief. Thus it is not accurate to equate music, including the musical element in poetry, with complacency or isolation. The movement of the musical imagination must, as with all imaginations, encounter something beyond the self, beyond even the boundaries of its medium, to connect to that which gives it power.