On this list, lovers of poetry and music will find their worlds colliding. Each poet represented, from well-known names like William Shakespeare to lesser-known modern poets like Emilie Buchwald, have something original and noteworthy to say about the power of poetry and music in our everyday lives.
Best Poems about Music
- 1 I Am in Need of Music by Elizabeth Bishop
- 2 The Myth of Music by Rachel M. Harper
- 3 The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning
- 4 Musician by Gillian Clarke
- 5 Sonnet 8: Music to Hear, why hear’st thou music sadly? by William Shakespeare
- 6 Music by Walter de la Mare
- 7 Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats
- 8 I Hear America Singing by Walt Whitman
- 9 My Mother’s Music by Emilie Buchwald
- 10 To— by Percy Bysshe Shelley
‘I Am In Need of Music’ is one of the best poems on this list. In it, Bishop describes a speaker’s desire to be held, calmed down, and overtaken by the music she loves. It is a very specific type of music that she’s interested in, a kind that will calm her “fretful…fingertips”. She’s on edge and knows that there’s only one thing that’s going to calm her down. She’s seeking out the “deep, clear, and liquid-slow” melody. Readers from all walks of life can likely relate to this feeling, no matter what kind of music it is that they are drawn to. It has the ability to change one’s entire outlook on life.
In ‘The Myth of Music,’ Harper describes the almost magical powers that music has to connect one to previous generations. There is one particular type of music that moves the speaker and makes her feel as if she’s more connected to her familial roots. The melody contains her “inheritance”. The music also helps her remember past experiences that gave her peace and those that brought her sorrow. She can listen to it and be reminded of those who love her and those she loves.
The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning
In this poem, Browning tells the story of a German piper who lures rats away from town with his music. It dates back to the Middle Ages but it was this version of the poem that has become the most popular. It was published in his collection Dramatic Lyrics in 1842. Usually, the story of the Piper is connected to the plague and the possibility that someone saved the town of Hamelin from the plague by driving off the rats. Yet again, this is the power of music.
In ‘Musician’ Gillian Clarke depicts a moving memory of her son learning how to play the piano. She spends time exploring the creativity of music and the comfort it can bring to those who are in most desperate need of it. The speaker is moved by the music her child is playing, she knows that he, as the musician, is experiencing it more poignantly than she is. The most interesting part of this poem is the double connection that the speaker is enjoying with the music around her. She takes pleasure in hearing it but also in the fact that her son is joyfully playing it.
‘Sonnet 8’ is one of the 154 sonnets that Shakespeare wrote during his lifetime. It is part of the Fair Youth sequence which contains some of Shakespeare’s most popular poems. The lines of this particular poem are concerned with the fact that the Youth has yet to find a woman to love and have a child with. Rather than focusing on what’s going to prolong his existence on earth, he’s spending time on the simple pleasures of life. Many of the Fair Youth sonnets focused on this topic. Shakespeare, or at least his speaker, was preoccupied with the fact that this love, the Fair Youth, was going to die one day. If only he could have an heir, that child could bring his beauty into the next generation. Unfortunately for the speaker, this is easier said than done.
Music by Walter de la Mare
‘Music’ is another short poem on this list. In it, de la Mare depicts or alludes to the various things that music can do in life to improve it. It makes the world an overall better place and connects human beings more deeply to their own lives and the lives of others. This should remind readers of the work of Gillian Clarke in ‘Musician’ and Harper’s ‘The Myth of Music’.
‘Ode to a Nightingale’ is one of Keats’ most famous odes. In it, Keats depicts the music of a nightingale bird and allows its song to transport him. There are some distinctive allusions to Greek mythology in this poem as well. Overall, the speaker and his mood are quite melancholy. Keats’ speaker depicts the apparent happiness of the bird and his own unhappiness. All wrapped in the poem is the complexity of human life, the pain, and the joy.
‘I Hear America Singing’ is one of Whitman’s best poems. It was published in Leaves of Grass in 1860. The poem depicts the residents of the world singing together, each person with their own part. All the members of society have a part to play. This is one of Whitman’s shorter poems at only eleven lines, but he accomplishes a lot within it. He alludes to the complex American population, the different histories its citizens have, and how each one of those is valid.
In this lesser-known poem, Buchwald uses an extended metaphor to compare her mother’s ‘music’ to water and the more general flow of nature. The images in this poem come together to depict the speaker’s happy childhood. She explores themes of nostalgia and memory while also bringing in very personal memories, such as that of her mother playing the piano while she drifted off to sleep. This is also the second poem on this list that relates music to water.
To— by Percy Bysshe Shelley
In this short, beautiful poem, Shelley compares the lingering pleasure of music to the smell of roses, and the feeling of his love. He only brings in bright, moving images that create a peaceful and relaxed mood. At first, the poem seems like it’s going to be more ethereal, focused more on the senses than on tactile experiences, but in the end, he brings it back around to regard “thou,” his lover when “thou art gone”. His memories of this person and the love he feels for them stick around long after they’re gone.