Conrad Aiken

Music I Heard by Conrad Aiken

‘Music I Heard’ by Conrad Aiken describes the irreparably changed world of a speaker who has lost his lover but not the most poignant of his memories.

Music I Heard’,’ also known as ‘Bread and Music,’ by Conrad Aiken is a three-stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines or quatrains. Each of these stanzas follows a structured and consistent rhyming pattern of abcb, repeated with different end sounds in all three sets of lines.  

It is clear from the first lines of this piece that the mood is going to be pessimistic and the tone mournful. The speaker is looking back on someone he loved, who is now gone and recalling their presence through the objects he still owns. 

One interesting theme of this piece is that of the power of memory. In the speaker’s case, his memories are tied directly to objects, such as a table or silver. It is through these physical things he is able to most clearly recall the moments he spent with his “beloved.” 

Music I Heard by Conrad Aiken


Summary of Music I Heard

Music I Heard’ by Conrad Aiken describes the irreparably changed world of a speaker who has lost his lover but not the most poignant of his memories.

The poem begins with the speaker describing how everything he experienced with his lover was enhanced. If it was music, a meal, or simply being in their presence, the world was more meaningful. The music was “more than music” and the bread “more than bread.” The next two lines reveal the lover is gone. Something undefined has happened to make “dead” everything that was once “so beautiful.” 

In the next section, he explains how everything his “beloved” touched was changed. The table, chairs, cups, plates, it has all been permanently marked. Even though this person is gone the speaker still senses them among his things. Although the memories the objects hold are happy, they also bring up an inescapable sadness. There is no way for the speaker to remove himself from the markers left behind by his lover. His world is permanently changed by this person’s presence and now absence. 

The poem concludes with his true dedication being put on display. He explains how his heart moved with his ‘beloved” wherever this person went. The speaker trailed along behind, eager to spend as much time in their presence as possible. 


Analysis of Music I Heard

Stanza One 

Music I heard with you was more than music,

And bread I broke with you was more than bread;

Now that I am without you, all is desolate;

All that was once so beautiful is dead.

In the first stanza of this piece, the speaker begins by addressing his intended listener. He states that any music he heard with this person was “more than music.” Although he directly references the song in this line, it is likely the speaker’s feelings would stretch to any other meaningful thing. This could include another performance or visual art. The time he spends with his lover elevates everything around him. Even the most mundane parts of this life are transformed. 

This is made evident through the image of bread he “broke” with this person being “more than bread.” The two are able to connect throughout each part of their lives. They improve one another and the physical situations they are in.

In the next lines, the speaker states that he is now “without you.” His lover has left him alone to listen to music and break bread by himself. These activities which were once thrilling are “desolate.” There is nothing that can bring him any happiness if his lover is not there beside him. The speaker is clearly very distressed by the parting of this lover. So much so that he declares all “beautiful” things in the world to be “dead.” 


Stanza Two 

Your hands once touched this table and this silver,

And I have seen your fingers hold this glass.

These things do not remember you, belovèd,

And yet your touch upon them will not pass.

The second stanza is filled with the speaker continuing to reminisce about the moments he spent with his lover. He looks around him and sees evidence of their time. He first points out the “table and this silver.” Once again, everyday objects are imbued with something special. All because they’ve come in contact with the person he loves. Their importance rubs off on everything else. 

He recalls seeing his lover’s “fingers hold this glass.” The speaker is grasping for every image he can drag out of his mind. These lines also show how inescapable this person’s presence is. Even though they are no longer together he cannot leave behind his memories. They follow him through his surrounding objects. 

The speaker emphasizes the above statements by saying that the “things” he sees as important, do not remember “you, belovéd.” The cups and tables cannot recall “you,” but he can. He cannot stop seeing this person’s “touch upon them.” 


Stanza Three

For it was in my heart you moved among them,

And blessed them with your hands and with your eyes;

And in my heart they will remember always,—

They knew you once, O beautiful and wise.

In the final lines of this piece, the speaker explains why it is his lover’s presence will not leave the everyday objects around him. When this person was there, his “heart…moved among them.” His “beloved” had so much sway over his emotions they trailed along wherever they went. 

The speaker’s lover is so elevated in his mind, that anything they touch is “blessed.” The “anything” includes the cups and tables mentioned previously. They are now permanently changed having been exposed to his “beloved.” 

The poem concludes with two lines that might lead one to believe that the lover has not left the speaker, but died. He states that his heart will always remember that the world “knew you once.” The poem ends with one more line of praise. His “beloved” was “beautiful and wise.” It is clear there is no one else in the world who can come close to the speaker’s lover. Now that they are gone, his world has been altered irreparably. 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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