“Music is the universal language of mankind” (Longfellow, thinkexist.com). When most people think about music they think of it as a subtle art. It is something that most people take for granted in their lives. It is fun to sing along to a song in the car, or to dance along at a party, etc... It is also a background noise in movies, or parties, or a variety of other places. Most people never stop and think about the transformative power that music can have on them. It should be made clear though that music does indeed have a transformative power. When a person is feeling depressed an upbeat song can lift their spirits up. The same is true for the opposite effect as well. If someone is feeling up, a sad and morose song can bring them back down. This is just a small part of the power that music has over our lives though. As the quote points out, music is a universal language. It is something that people of all ages, religions, genders, and ethnicity can understand and enjoy. This is what truly makes music a powerful force in our world.
What happens though when authors choose to put this power in their writing, though? What kind of similar messages and questions about music are raised in pieces from The Romantic Period and the Modern Era? While there may not seem like there is much in common from two eras hundreds of years apart, there are indeed some similar themes in the poems and stories from these two time frames. The most prominent of these themes is the theme of change, and how you can achieve it through music. It is not something that can be obtained by merely being around music. It is something that can only happen when you truly listen to the music around you.
First, let us listen to the Romantic Period and the pieces we find there. We will begin with William Wordsworth’s poem, Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey. While there are several interesting lines in this poem the lines that will be our focus are: For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity,
Not harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. (Wordsworth 89-94)
There are several questions about these lines that need to be answered before we can begin to make sense of what the author was trying to convey in these lines. First, it is prudent to understand what exactly the author means when he is talking about humanity. If one were to just use their own common sense, they would probably come to the conclusion that the author is talking about the general human nature of mankind. If one were to take this definition as the correct use of the word in the poem then the line could read as “The still, sad music of human nature”. While this reworking of the line clears up some questions, other questions remain. What exactly is the “still, sad music of human nature”? What exactly is Wordsworth talking about here? While there are certainly a great many...