Poem of the Day: ‘Stanzas for Music’ by Lord Byron

‘Stanzas for Music’ by Lord Byron

   There be none of Beauty’s daughters
       With a magic like thee;
And like music on the waters
       Is thy sweet voice to me:
When, as if its sound were causing
The charmed ocean’s pausing,
The waves lie still and gleaming,
And the lull’d winds seem dreaming:
   And the midnight moon is weaving
       Her bright chain o’er the deep;
Whose breast is gently heaving,
       As an infant’s asleep:
So the spirit bows before thee,
To listen and adore thee;
With a full but soft emotion,
Like the swell of Summer’s ocean.

 Lord Byron was born in 1788 and was one of the leading Romantic poets. Often described as one of, if not, the most flamboyant and infamous of his contemporaries, he led a life full of sex, scandal and possibly even incest. To be fair, with madness, murder, alcoholism and suicide all afflicting his immediate family, it’s not surprising that the apple didn’t fall too far from the proverbial family tree. However, from this dysfunctional background emerged some of the most lyrical and vivid poetry, not only of the Romantic movement, but in the English canon.

For today’s Poem of the Day, I chose ‘Stanzas for Music’ for its gentle rhythm and the softness of its imagery – the quiet tone of the poem creates a tranquil sense of peace, whilst the rhythm lulls the reader with its ebb and flow, as if the poem itself has breath of its own. Take for example, the use of a present participle to end the last four lines of the first stanza which create a sense of suspended animation; ‘causing’, ‘pausing’, ‘gleaming’ and ‘dreaming’, with their elongated vowels, seem to stretch time and by the time we get to ‘Like the swell’, the only end-stopped line, the poem has come to its climax at ‘swell’ (perhaps, sexual), at which point the sibilance of ‘summer’s ocean’ offers a gentle release.

Contextually, it would have been common to set poetry to music, but the title can be argued to have a second meaning. With Byron’s infamously colourful sexual history, it would seem apparent that the poem is addressed to a female lover; however, Byron’s use of the extended metaphor invites us to explore its ambiguity. Could ‘Stanzas for Music’ be interpreted as a set of stanzas written for Music, the abstract concept? Byron certainly ‘listen[s] and adore[s]’ its ‘sweet voice’…

Personally, I like to interpret the poem as Byron’s clever way of intermingling two of the greatest pleasures in life: love and music. With its shining Moon and shimmering waters, ‘Stanzas for Music’ is a truly magical poem.

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