Lyric poetry is, of course, musical in origin. I do know that what happened to poetry in the twentieth century was that it began to be written for the page. When it’s a question of typography, why not? Poets have done beautiful things with typography – Apollinaire’s ‘Calligrammes,’ that sort of thing.
The term ‘epitaph’ itself means ‘something to be spoken at a burial or engraved upon a tomb.’ When an epitaph is a poem written for a tomb, and appears in a book, we are aware that we are not reading it in its proper form: we are reading a reproduction. The original of the epitaph is the tomb itself, with its words cut into the stone.
When we study Shakespeare on the page, for academic purposes, we may require all kinds of help. Generally, we read him in modern spelling and with modern punctuation, and with notes. But any poetry that is performed – from song lyric to tragic speech – must make its point, as it were, without reference back.
Sometimes I have thought that a song should look disappointing on the page – a little thin, perhaps, a little repetitive, or a little on the obvious side, or a mixture of all of these things.
My feeling is that poetry will wither on the vine if you don’t regularly come back to the simplest fundamentals of the poem: rhythm, rhyme, simple subjects – love, death, war.
Modernism in other arts brought extreme difficulty. In poetry, the characteristic difficulty imported under the name of modernism was obscurity. But obscurity could just as easily be a quality of metrical as of free verse.
Metrics are not a device for restraining the mad, any more than ‘open form’ or free verse is a prairie where a man can do all kinds of manly things in a state of wholesome unrestrictedness.
Writing for the page is only one form of writing for the eye. Wherever solemn inscriptions are put up in public places, there is a sense that the site and the occasion demand a form of writing which goes beyond plain informative prose. Each word is so valued that the letters forming it are seen as objects of solemn beauty.
In song the same rule applies as in dramatic verse: the meaning must yield itself, or yield itself sufficiently to arouse the attention and interest, in real time.
The lullaby is the spell whereby the mother attempts to transform herself back from an ogre to a saint.