Melodies for Poems
In studying Japanese Tanka and Chinese Quatrains I discovered that traditionally they are rooted in song and that the rhythmic pattern for the songs is placed within a simple structure. Each line of the poem receives the same number of musical measures and beats. In western terms this would be two measures of four-four time. For the Chinese Quatrains this would result in eight measures, two measures for each line, and each line would have the same rhythmic pulse. For the Japanese Tanka the rhythmic pattern is the same, but there will be ten measures of four-four time, two measures for each of the five lines.
The important lesson to be learned here is that each line is given the same musical duration; two full measures of four-four time. (See my previous posts, “Poetry and Song”, under the category “Syllabics”.) Contemplating this structure, I saw how placing a syllabic form into this musical context allows for the poet to access the pulse of a particular form, how a five syllable line differs from a seven syllable line, and in the case of Tanka, how the two can be woven together.
Contemplating this further, I experimented with applying the same principle to other types of syllabic verse such as Cinquain, Lanterne, Tetractys, etc. In each case I followed the same principles as found in ancient Chinese Quatrains and Japanese Tanka; which is to give each line two measures of four-four time.
By placing all of these syllabic forms into the same context of musical measure the poet has a tool to feel in the body and breath how these forms breathe, how they sing, and how they differ from each other. The contrasts between the forms emerges with clarity even when they are analogs of each other (analogs are syllabic forms with the same number of syllables, but the syllable count is distributed over the lines differently).
I posted my first melody yesterday; a melody for the Lanterne form. There are five lines. Each line receives two measures of four-four time. Since the first line of a Lanterne consists of a single syllable, it will fill the entire two measures. The second line is two syllables, so each measure of the second line has one of those syllables. This basic procedure is followed for all the syllabic forms to generate melodies for these forms.
There are countless melodies that can be generated in this manner, just as there are countless poems that each form can embody. The melody for a particular form, such as the Lanterne Melody posted yesterday, can be used for any Lanterne. In addition, the Lanterne melody can be used for a series of Lanterne, thus generating a song with verses. The same applies to the melodies I will be posting for other forms such as Tanka and Tetractys. Finally, the same poem can be sung using different melodies for that particular form; for example, a particular Lanterne can be sung to Lanterne Melody 1, or Lanterne Melody 2 (soon to be posted), etc. In this way different emotional nuances of the poem can be emphasized using different melodies.
For the poet I think this is an invaluable tool because it gives the syllabic form an added dimension of meaning. It is my personal feeling that this dimension of melodic meaning was near at hand with ancient Chinese Quatrains and Japanese Tanka, but that over time this kind of relationship was almost lost, though not entirely; there are still echoes of this relationship in the way a particular poem might be read and paced.
There is a personal dimension to the melodies for me. When I come up with a poem in a particular syllabic form it almost always comes to me with a melody. Basically, when I write a poem I am jotting down the lyrics I am hearing in my mind. Now the melody is not a new melody each time, but rather there are a set of melodies that support a particular form. That’s just how my mind works in writing poetry. I have found that adhering to a particular syllabic form shapes the melody as well as the content of the poem itself; so in a sense when I write poetry I am shaping melodic lines as well as shaping words.
Please feel free to use the melodies posted here if you find them helpful in writing poems in a particular form. You can use these melodies for your own poems, to create a song from your favorite poems in a particular form, or just to hum should you so wish.