The Celestial Twins: Poetry and Music Through the Ages

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Univ of Massachusetts Press, 1999 - Literary Criticism - 328 pages
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"All art constantly aspires toward the condition of music," wrote Walter Pater. The Celestial Twins, while recognizing many affinities between music and poetry, argues that poetry in Western culture has repeatedly separated itself from music contexts and that the best poetry is a purely verbal art.

H. T. Kirby-Smith makes his case with wit and erudition, proceeding chronologically and citing numerous examples of specific poems--from Latin, Old French, Italian, Anglo-Saxon, modern French, and English. He points out that ancient Greek poetry, including the epics, was part of a musical context. By contrast, almost no surviving Latin poetry was written for musical performance, but the meters of Latin poetry were borrowed from Greek musical meters. Similarly, in their own ways, Thomas Hardy, T. S. Eliot, and Langston Hughes all wrote out of musical contexts: Hardy from west-of-England songs and dances; Eliot from Wagnerian opera and late Beethoven chamber music; and Hughes from blues, jazz, and spirituals.

Although poets from Horace to Shakespeare to Dickinson have instinctively recognized the separation of music and poetry, there have also been well-meaning attempts to bring these allied arts back into close association with each other. But in Kirby-Smith's view, poetry of the highest order has always maintained a respectful distance from music, even while retaining some memory of musical rhythms and organization.

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A model of scholarship that is not just convincing but a pleasure to read, The Celestial Twins argues that the best poetry has always been invigorated by music. Dante's poetry, for example, emerged ... Read full review


From Latin Verse to Sacred Song
The Transition to Vernacular Song
OralFormulaic Beginnings
Nature and Artifice
The English Renaissance
Arranged Marriages
Godgifted Organ Voice of England
Can Empty Sounds Such Joys Impart
The Revival of the Lyric
A Second Renaissance
Three American Originals
Some Moderns

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About the author (1999)

H. T. Kirby-Smith is associate professor of English at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. His most recent book is The Origins of Free Verse.

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