Lyricism Today Demands Music

"Unless some poets are willing to experiment with words set to music, the lyric impulse may fade out completely," C. Day Lewis warned when he spoke--and sang--in last night's Charles Eliot Norton lecture.

Lewis' speech, entitled "Words and Music," pointed out the difficulties of creating a simple lyric today. The British poet suggested that writing words for music can help by "clearing away much of the verbal undergrowth." The music can be a "cover for the simplicity of the words," Lewis explained.

Music Will Restrict

He emphasized, however, that a musical setting will restrict poetry; for instance, certain types of meter cannot be set to song. The poet must either know enough about music "to use the tune as a technical and emotional guide" or allow a composer to alter his work, Lewis said.

He demonstrated the interplay of words and music by singing some of his own poems "which wouldn't have been written at all if not for the tunes." The audience broke into applause in the middle of one poem.

Lewis sang several other lyrics to illustrate the history of this type of poetry. Elizabethan verse closely joined words and music, he said. The earlier seventeenth century actually interpreted moods through music, but conversational router and metaphysical complexity have both served to divorce the lyric from its musical origin.