Table of Contents


From all art forms, music possesses the greatest force of influence on the person, directly addressing to his soul, to the world of own experiences, and moods. It can be called the language of feelings, and the model of human emotions. Music plays a huge role in the course of the education of spirituality, culture of feelings, developments of the emotional and informative sides of people’s personalities.

In the course of historical development of a society, the perception of the music, which is one of the components of musical culture, could not remain invariable. It is obvious that in the past people listened and heard music differently, than now. Throughout all centuries-old history the mankind aspired to get into secrets of sounds of world around and to use them in own interests. In that sense music and poetry are somewhat similar, in a way that both need certain qualities in the person involved for them to be appreciated and understood.

This paper analyzes different ideas of music and poetry perception based on excerpts from “How does a poem mean” by John Ciardi and Miller Williams, ”Question about music” by Roger Sessions, and “Music and Imagination” by Aaron Copland. This paper compares the views regarding music and poetry perception presented in the aforementioned works along personal opinions and experience.


In Ciardi and Miller, the main theme of the book is about poetry and the discussion that can be resulted from learning how to understand poetry. The author introduce the topic with identifying three common approaches that commonly are used in discussions and at the same time they are “dull and pointless ways of talking about poetry” (xxi)By using such explanation in the introduction, the authors start their main indirect thesis which is poetry should be handled with different approach, where different does not mean specific, as there is no complete system for understanding or judging poetry(2). Thus the authors merely suggest guidelines that should be considered when reading or listening to poetry.

Similarly, Copland addresses the issue of the understanding of music from the context of an existing gap between composers and the public. The author assesses the tendencies in the relation between the author-composer and the public stating that despite the existence of a tendency to attract the public, “artist of integrity…always creates as he does because it is his overriding imperative to do so”(9).

Parallels between the two previous works are apparent, although they are addressing different subjects, which are poetry and music. In Ciardi and Miller, nevertheless, the comparison between the contemporary poetry and the poetry of “the old times” was not approached, and thus the authors do not make a distinction in the perception of poetry in different generations.

Both works state guidelines for understanding their subjects, and an explanation for the process itself. “Frost did not know he was going to write those lines until he wrote them” (John Ciardi 10) It is an example similar to “[he] finds himself possessed by the impulse to put together tones and rhythms and musical patterns of his own” (Roger Sessions, p. 10).

The similarity is shown through the process where the intentions of both, the poet and the composer, are not to appeal to public, rather than “for the fun of it” and until finding “his own public”. In that sense, the rhymes in the poem are similar to accords in musical composition.

Copland, on the other hand shares with the previous two works the emphasis on the listener in the context of music, giving and extensive analysis of the so-called “gifted listener”. Before moving to the presentation of Copland’s ideas, one point of comparison should be mentioned. Copland, despite starting the first chapter with a quotation that refers to the sense musical delights of poetry as gift of imagination, argued that “music provides the broadest possible vista for the imagination since it is the freest, the most abstract, and the least fettered of all the arts (7).

In Ciardi and Miller the emphasis on poetry where in the example shown of Frost’s poetry, the limits of rhymes and their difficulty in English language demonstrated that poetry is no less imaginative work than music and in the case of the listener as a subject of discussion requires no less imagination.

Sessions at the same time parallels music and literary work stating that “none of us ever read a word or a sentence without- at the very least barely below the edge of our consciousness – quite involuntarily imagining the actual sounds of the words and the sentences.”(17).

Additionally, the works of Sessions and Copland can be analyzed in terms of the discussion of the listener and the public, where according to Sessions, the listener distinguished from public and demanded by composers should have a willing ear that is not only free of prejudice, but also “that is attentive, curious, and preserving as well” (13).

Copland on the other hand, identifies listening as a talent, stating that there are “two principal requisites for talented listening: first, the ability to open up to musical experience; and secondly, the ability to evaluate critically that experience” (8). The evaluation and critical thinking is also found in Ciardi and Miller’s work in the form of a discussion and perception of the beauty and identification of its sources.

Personal Opinion

As a person with a musical background, the theme of musical perception is closer than of the poetical. Nevertheless, it can be seen that most of the ideas presented in all the works can be applied to both poetry and music.

The ideas presented in Sessions work is beneficial, however, he outlined his ideas as an artist and a composer. In my opinion it should be distinguished between playing someone’s music regardless of its direction and creating your own, where the latter fits better to the idea of the gap between the artist and the public and finding one’s own audience.

Playing violin all my life, I can tell that indeed my audience already exists, whereas defining a category of audience that fits in the description presented as “gifted listener” and “willing ear” is difficult unlike identifying who is enjoying the music and who is not.

All forms of arts and specifically all the direction existing within them are to found their own niche. In that sense, educating to create a good music listener is as important as teaching how to assess poetry.

Works Cited

  1. Ciardi, John, and Miller Williams. How Does a Poem Mean?. Houghton Mifflin College Div, 1975.
  2. Copland, Aaron. Music and Imagination. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1953.
  3. Sessions, Roger. Questions About Music. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970.