What is the Relationship Between Poetry and Music?

Updated: May 10



Poetry and music have always been related since time immemorial. Or at least, we know that great bards of the medieval times often performed reading their poetry accompanied by music. Music and poetry were always intertwined and they have been part of our society for centuries as live performances. In fact, there is a close relationship between many forms of art from dancing, painting, performing, to sculpture. But there is a unique connection between poetry and music.


Similarities between music and poetry


Music has been generally believed to originate from Africa as tribes used various materials to create the first instruments to produce rhythmic sounds for rituals. In fact, this way of making music is part of every culture and influenced by all aspects of life from religion, customs to even the climate.


Poetry on the other hand is a form of rhythmic language. The rhythm intends to help evoke meaning and was known before written texts were used as a form of recording law or commerce. To help listeners remember the poetry, some phrases are repeated.


The repeated phrases in poems are similar to the chorus in a song - to help us remember. The word lyrics derive from words such as lyricism, lyric, and lyre. The lyre is a harp-like musical instrument dominant in ancient Greece. Lyricism is expressing beautiful feelings in the form of music or writing. Ultimately, a lyric poem is that which expresses emotion.


Lyric poems were meant to be sung in the form of sonnets, odes, elegies, and ballads.


The connection between music and poetry


Although both poetry and music are two art forms that blend well together, they are also seen to be independent. Each one can stand out on their own and not all poems can have a melody attached to it.


Yet the lyrics of a song can be beautiful enough and be structured in a way to be considered a poem. Poems, which may be unnoticed, have been loved by people when they became songs. For example, the poem “Arnisi”, written by one of Greece’s greatest poets Giorgos Seferis, became popular when it was composed into a song by Mikis Theodorakis.


In fact, music can inspire poems too. T.S. Eliot reportedly wrote “The Wasteland” by listening to Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring”. Similarly, musicians can also be inspired by poetry. Maurice Ravel composed the “Trois Poemes de Mallarme” based on the poems by Mallarme.


Poets are evidently inspired by composers and composers by poets.


Timeless relationship between music and poetry


Both poetry and music allow us to express our deepest emotions. Music expresses melodic sounds that flow and emits emotions without words. Poetry is about rhythm, flow, and expression. There’s a mode of repetition between the two forms to create a pattern as a reminder so that listeners remember.


The repeated phrases are noticed in Homer and the religious texts of ancient India. How did music and poetry share such a long and timeless relationship? Poems, which might have been lost under stacks of paper, were sung to attract listeners. Music, combined with lyrics, approaches the human soul and penetrates it deeply to express personal emotions.


Not forgetting that artists of both forms are affected by their surroundings - the socioeconomic environment, dominant beliefs, religion, and customs.


Things change along the way. The method of alliteration used by American poet Emily Dickson is now used by many rappers today. The iambic pentameter is still dominant today and is the closest it can get to the way people talk in their everyday life. It is no surprise why music and poetry can make such great coupling for centuries and will probably do so for eternity.


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