What does the apocalypse sound like?

I’m very puzzled by Wordsworth’s repeated allusions to music, harmony, lutes, songs, wind, and breath, which makes me wonder how he is engaging the musical arts in addition to the visual arts we’ve been discussing in class.  In book I of the Prelude, he claims to yearn for a “philosophic song” and that “man’s heart” is like an “immortal verse” “fitted to the Orphean lyre” (105; lines 230, 233-34).  Later in that book he writes that “the mind of man is framed even like the breath / And harmony of music” (I. 351-2).  These quotes beg the questions:  what kind of music was Wordsworth listening to and what does the apocalypse sound like?

Perhaps an answer can be found in the famous Austrian composer, Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), one of the most prominent composers of the classical period.  He visited London twice in 1791-92 and 1794-1795 and attracted large crowds of Englishmen at his concerts.  He composed a famous oratorio toward the end of his life in 1798 named “The Creation,” which attempts to capture the sublime experience in music.  An oratorio is a concert piece written as a long musical composition including orchestra, a choir, and soloists.

Here’s an example of Hayden’s “The Creation.”

In what sections of this composition do you experience the sublime or, for that matter, apocalyptic rapture?

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~ by hgarcia13 on September 4, 2012.

One Response to “What does the apocalypse sound like?”

  1. In these first few books of The Prelude, the sublime, for Wordsworth,
    resides in the small, quiet sounds that barely break the silence of
    nature. In his story of himself as a poet, to return to his work as a
    poet from the distractions of a noisy, social college life is always
    to return to the stillness and quietude of nature in order to listen
    and to receive into a calm, reflective soul the small drops of beauty,
    of poetry, of the sublime that he finds there. To do the work of the
    clear-sighted poet-prophet, he must escape the blind clamor and noise
    of social life and enter into the clear, peaceful calm of quiet
    nature. Describing his lapse from his poetically charged youth into a
    lazy, social college life, he says “To the deep quiet and majestic
    thoughts / Of loneliness succeeded empty noise / And superficial
    pastimes…” III 210-212. For him as a poet, the noisy social life
    is empty (of poetic inspiration), and it is in quiet solitude that the
    “majestic thoughts” of poetry are born. Throughout the third book in
    particular, Wordsworth reiterates his understanding that the
    perception of poetic truths requires a still soul, wherein the
    turbulence of the subjective is minimized. Silence of self,
    forgetfulness of self is required to accurately perceive poetic
    truths, so that the poet may serve as the conductor between reality
    and consciousness. It is then that the small, quiet whispers of
    nature can find a reflective resonance in the soul.
    This, then, is the nature of Wordsworth’s music of the sublime: small
    whispers that only a still, self-forgetting soul and mind may hear.
    This is the sort of music that the “touches of the wind” upon a
    passive lute suggests in these lines:
    I was wakeful even as the waters are
    To the sky’s motion, in a kindred sense
    Of passion was obedient as a lute
    That waits upon the touches of the wind.
    III, 35-138
    The sounds thus produced would be subtle indeed! Even a violent wind
    might produce only small sounds, but in his description of sublime
    sound Wordsworth would not even go beyond “touches of the wind.” It
    is this sort of sound one hears again in Wordsworth’s enigmatic phrase
    “breathings for incommunicable powers”:
    Points have we all of us within our souls
    Where we all stand single; this I feel, and make
    breathings for incommunicable powers.
    III, 186-190
    Such is the stillness and quietude of the sublime music of nature that
    to reflect them is to make only “breathings.” In book two we have
    heard this music as well:
    And I would stand
    Beneath some rock, listening to sounds that are
    The ghostly language of the ancient earth,
    Or make their dim abode in the distant winds.
    II, 306-310
    The work of the poet, then, is to listen to these small, still
    whispers of nature. And such is the sublime music that the sound of
    it as it may be reflected in poetry is only as “a lute / that waits
    upon the touches of the wind.”

    Tags: sublime, music, William Wordsworth, The Prelude, forgetfulness
    of self, nature of poetry, solitude

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