Composing the Apocalypse

Stop. Before you go any further on reading this blog post, an appropriate mood must be set.

Open this link and overlay this music on top. There. Now we’re ready. After all, we’re going to be discussing music in the  Romantic era, and what could fit that theme better than Beethoven’s pastoral set against a rainy backdrop?

Don’t turn the music off just yet. It’s key that you keep both sets of sound going for now. Now, Beethoven isn’t actually a direct member of the Romantic movement, of course, so we must keep that in mind as we turn to Wordsworth. Throughout his Prelude, Wordsworth makes numerous allusions to music, and more importantly, to sound in general. We can discuss Wordsworth’s physical lack of certain senses, but really, that isn’t important at this time. Just listen to the sounds and reflect in his words.

In “Book Four” (of the 1805 publication), Wordsworth produces a very intriguing passage which reads, “A hundred times when in these wanderings / I have been busy with the toil of verse- / Great pains and little progress- and at once / Some fair enchanting image in my mind / Rose up, full-formed like Venus from the sea, / Have I sprung forth towards him and let loose / My hand upon his back with stormy joy” (101-106). Many significant things are happening here, to say the least. At the beginning of the passage, Wordsworth is struggling to compose his own lyrics and verses; basically, he cannot find the inspiration to fit his words or the words to fit his inspirations. Enter nature. Some force, I suppose we can call it “deus ex natura” for lack of a better term, slaps him over the head and “enchants his mind.” It is as if nature itself is using Wordsworth as an intermediary to produce itself into art. The end result is not due to Wordsworth’s creativity, it seems, nor does it stem from any cultural influence, musical or otherwise, he has encountered.

In short, we see here the sound of the Apocalypse. The Apocalypse here, of course, relates more to its technical meaning of “unveiling” in that nature unveiled itself to Wordsworth through what he could only interpret as “stormy joy.” There is no tangible source to this inspiration, and that is fine. It is the unveiling that is important. The notion that, even without knowing the deep corners of Truth, art in music and words can still germinate out of seemingly nothingness.

If Beethoven is still playing, turn it off, but leave the rain on.

Just listen.

We may never be as in tune with the dark recesses of the natural world like Wordsworth was, but in the absence of the physical music, it’s metaphorical shadow left on the rain, we too can sense the Apocalypse and the “enchanting images” that so inspired Wordsworth.


~ by atrevelyan on September 6, 2012.

One Response to “Composing the Apocalypse”

  1. This is a truly imaginative and creative post! Your idea of mixing two soundscapes into one made me think hard about the implicit metaphor of “stormy joy.” How does joy become stormy in itself? Is it really the case that Nature intrudes upon the poet unmediated, or could it be that nature is always-already filtered through some other medium–music, visual art, etc? Think about this: would the sould clip on storms still sound musical to our ears if you hadn’t related it to Beethoven’s symphonic sound? What requires explanation here is the poet’s status in relationship to nature: he is a transparent conduit or an active filter?

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