musical notes forming the shape of a human brain


Perhaps the musicality of poetry represents a pivotal stage in the evolution of human language – the transition from communicative sounds like shouts, word-less songs, and imitations to communication based on symbols, syntax, and grammar. As such, it could also represent an evolutionary and developmental stage of human cognition – the transition from perceptions and perceptual associations (shouting = excitement and/or danger) to linguistic associations and associative conceptions (the sound of “Look!” = experiences of directing one’s eyes and attention to something specific). To the extent that this transition from perceptual to linguistic associations is mediated by emotions (our physiological representations of memories), poetry is – at its best – literally the art of using words to deeply engage our subconscious, pre-verbal, embodied awareness.


[Music is] organized sound.

Varèse, Edgard. 1940. Organized Sound for the Sound Film. Commonweal.



[T]he mental representation of the sounds of metrical, rhymed poetry and of music, whether texted or not, share a good deal more organization than has usually been supposed.

Lerdahl, Fred. 2003. The Sounds of Poetry Viewed as Music. The Cognitive Neuroscience of Music (p. 426).



When I was twenty I came across a definition of music that seemed suddenly to throw light on my groping toward the music I sensed could exist: “the corporealization of the intelligence that is in sounds” [Quote from Józef Maria Hoene-Wroński, the Polish physicist, chemist, musicologist and philosopher of the first half of the nineteenth century]. It was new and exciting and to me, the first perfectly intelligible conception of music. It was probably what first started me thinking of music as spatial–as moving bodies of sound in space[.]

‪Perlis, Vivian and Van Cleve, Libby.‬ 2005. Edgard Varèse. Composers Voices from Ives to Ellington: An Oral History of American Music (p. 103). Yale University Press.



The emotional impulse that moves a composer to write his scores contains the same element of poetry that incites the scientist to his discoveries. There is solidarity between scientific development and the progress of music. Throwing new light on nature, science permits music to progress — or rather to grow and change with changing times — by revealing to our senses harmonies and sensations before unfelt.

Edgard Varèse. 1939. New Instruments and New Music (From a lecture given at Mary Austin House, Santa Fe).



POETRY.—The language in which the Book of Nature is written—they who can translate it are called poets.

1848. A Chapter of Definitions. Daily Crescent.



Poetry is – the natural language of excited feeling. When a man is under the influence of some strong emotion, his language, words, demeanour, become more elevated; he is twice the man he was. And not only his words, and posture, and looks, but the whole character and complexion of his thoughts are changed. They belong to a higher order of imagination and are more full of symbolism, and imagery; the reason of which is – that all the passions deal not with the limitations of time and space, but belong to a world which is infinite … And so, these passions of ours, uncalculating, and outlaws of time and space, disdaining the bounds of the universe, never argue, but reach at a single bound the eternal truth, discover unexpected analogies hidden before through all the universe, and subordinate each special case to some great and universal law.

Robertson, Frederick W. 1852. Lecture 1. Two Lectures on the Influence of Poetry on the Working Classes (pp. 8-9).



Poetry is emotion put into measure. The emotion must come by nature, but the measure can be acquired by art.

Thomas Hardy. 2007. Thomas Hardy. Wordsworth Editions.



I would define, in brief, the Poetry of words as The Rhythmical Creation of Beauty.

Poe, Edgar Allan. 1909-14. The Poetic Principle. Essays: English and American.



I think that the essence of – a kind of exchange is what poetry is interested in too: the feeling that you’re not battered by thought in a poem, but you are sort of as if you’re riding the wave of thought; as if you’re allowing thought to enter. You’re shifting. You’re changing. You’re looking. You are in a sensibility that allows you that sort of mental, emotional, spiritual interaction with everything around you.

Naomi Shihab Nye and Krista Tippett. 2018. Your Life Is a Poem. On Being.



[G]enuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.

Eliot, T.S. 1929. Dante.



In this view, the roots of music and language are the same … With evolution came specialization … Poetry straddles this evolutionary divergence by projecting, through the addition to ordinary speech of metrical and timbral patterning, its common heritage with music.

Lerdahl, Fred. 2003. The Sounds of Poetry Viewed as Music. The Cognitive Neuroscience of Music (pp. 427-428).



It had never occurred to me before that music and thinking are so much alike. In fact you could say music is another way of thinking, or maybe thinking is another kind of music.


Ursula K. Le Guin. 2004. Very Far Away from Anywhere Else.



Demakis, Joseph. 2012. Poetry. The Ultimate Book of Quotations (pp. 312-316).



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