Words move, music moves
Only in time. [T S Eliot in ‘Four Quartets’]
In his Nobel Lecture ‘Crediting Poetry’ Seamus Heaney talked about his effort to make poems sound right; his ‘straining towards a strain……a musically satisfying order of sound’. Heaney was probably influenced by T S Eliot and his theory of the ‘auditory imagination’. According to this theory meaning is secondary to sounds and rhythms and these noises of poetry penetrate below consciousness invigorating every word. Both these poets were concerned with the question ‘What good is poetry?’, writing in the context of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland (Heaney) and the Second World War (Eliot) which is why they crop up in John Carey’s book What Good are the Arts?
The idea of an ‘auditory imagination’ has a strong appeal to me both as a reader of poetry and someone who attempts to write in this genre. I can’t prove it scientifically but when I read some poems they evoke a response that is over and above, beyond, beneath (or wherever) the words on the page. Not surprisingly these poems include several of Eliot’s: parts of his ‘Four Quartets’, ‘The Hollow Men’, ‘La Figlia Che Piange’ and ‘Preludes’ to name but a few. I don’t make any extravagant claims as to the source of this experience but it is bound up with my passion for poetry and my preferences for one poet over another. My first readings of Robert Frost’s ‘Two Roads’ and Derek Mahon’s ‘Leaves’ were ‘Eureka’ moments. Neither do I claim to be anywhere near the same league as Heaney as a poet, but I know just what he means about straining towards ‘a musically satisfying order of sounds’; it’s what I am seeking when I craft a poem and I know the rare occasions I’ve found it.