I am always amazed by the fact that things which are inherently silent in nature make music in your mind. Writing is like that for me. Drawing is like that. And so is photography. That is an actual musical score from Chopin in the background. My son recognized it from a book of piano pieces I bought for him because he reads music and can turn those squiggle-bugs on the fence into the right plinkety-plunks on a keyboard. But there is more music in that picture besides. The nude young girl at the keyboard softly rendered in velvety colored pencil tones is also musical in nature, for more than just the fact of fingers on a silent colored pencil keyboard. The lyrical loops of black and yellow in the wings of the tiger swallowtail butterfly also make music in my head, sprightly piano music like Chopin’s, or possibly Vivaldi’s violins.
Did you listen to the music? I don’t mean Vivaldi’s, although if you haven’t heard it, you certainly should. I mean the music in the words. The music has to be there for me for the writing to be good. That’s why I consider Ray Bradbury and Walt Whitman to be masters and Stephenie Meyer and E. L. James to be unreadable hacks. The beat and the flow of the words need to be patterned and patient and wily. Do you not hear it in that last sentence? The alliteration of the first two adjectives set off by the counterpoint of the stressed-unstressed beats of the third? How can I explain this?
Iambic pentameter is the true genius of Shakespeare’s plays. What the heck is iambic pentameter, you ask? Well, I realize you have probably never needed to teach poetry to seventh graders, a truly impossible but infinitely rewarding task. So let me tell you. Units of stress called iambs consist of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. So naturally, if iambs are put into pentameter, then there must be five of them in a line of iambic pentameter poetry. It is a simple, rhythmic way to say something profound and interesting. The classic example is the first line of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18;
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Translating that into X’s and O’s where X=stressed and O=unstressed;
O X O X O X O X O X
It’s simple, five oxes, all in a line. Except that last one about oxes is actually O X O X X O O O O X, a less simple pattern, yet still organized on the beat. Two iambs, a dactyl and an anapest. Okay, now I am talking like a poetry geek, and I have to stop it before I hurt someone.
The whole point is, words should be musical, even when they are not the words to a song. And now I must close on the verge of starting a ten-thousand word thesis. I shall shut up now. Here endeth the lesson.