Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Guitar Poetry: The "Sound" of Three Centuries Ago

Recently I was doing some research that led me to dip into a bit of seventeenth century English poetry (and, as you might imagine, it doesn't take much to "lead" me into such explorations). I happened upon Crashaw's delightful poem "Music's Duel," which relates a contest of tonal virtuosity between a lute player and a bird.

It's a vivid poem, for a variety of ways in which it gives verbal description not only to the sounds of music but also the gestures of the musician. I took particular note of the Caroline era guitarist, who clearly possessed both passion and considerable skill. 

Though arthritis has slowed me down quite a bit, the youthful version of myself (as depicted above, about forty years ago) might have been up for a similar challenge. He probably would have at least fancied himself up for it.

One thing the excerpt from this poem below makes clear: in the 1600s those dudes could play! My man "the Lute Master" ROCKED.


Excerpt from "Music's Duel"

[The Lute's Master "awakes his lute'"]

...his hands sprightly as fire, he flings
And with a quavering coyness tasks the strings.
The sweet-lip't sisters, musically frighted,
Singing their fears, are fearfully delighted...

The humourous strings expound his learnèd touch,
By various glosses; now they seem to grutch,
And murmur in a buzzing dinne, then jingle
In shrill-tongu'd accents, striving to be single.
Every smooth turn, every delicious stroke
Gives life to some new grace; thus doth he invoke
Sweetness by all her names; thus, bravely thus
(Fraught with a fury so harmonious)
The lute's light genius now does proudly rise,
Heaved on the surges of swollen rapsodies,
Whose flourish (meteor-like) doth curl the air
With flash of high-borne fancies: here and there
Dancing in lofty measures, and anon
Creeps on the soft touch of a tender tone;
Whose trembling murmurs melting in wild aires
Runs to and fro, complaining his sweet cares...

~Richard Crashaw (1646)