In episode 1 of the BBC’s Great Poets In Their Own Words, UCL Professor of English John Mullan notes that “It was often said that WH Auden had this peculiar gift of making ordinary words sound terribly poetic by putting them into echoing patterns of sounds.”
This strikes me as a neat reminder of how putting ordinary words together in ways that sound right and ring true is at the heart of all forms of good writing. The meaning of our words is, of course, critical, but so too is the music. Indeed, the music reinforces the meaning. On this front, it’s not just the sound of each individual word that counts, but the patterns they create when we combine them – not just the single note but the rhythm and melody of the piece as a whole.
As close to music as I can get is how I like to write.
As Oliver Reichenstein points out, “Being fully immersed in writing is like composing and playing music while we drum up our perceptions into letters, words, sentences, and paragraphs.” In his post on Music in Writing, he shares Martin Amis’s take: “What you’re trying to do is: Be faithful to your perceptions, and transmit them as faithfully as you can… You know I just say these sentences again and again in my head, until they sound right. And there is no objective reason why they sound right. They just sound right to me. So it’s euphony, sometimes it’s harshness you want. But it’s… it’s just matching up the perception with the words… in a kind of semi-musical way.”
Beyond the sheer pleasure of listening to the melody, beat and tone of your words as you write, why write this way? Grace Nichols nails it: “The rhythm and musicality of poetry is more direct in its appeal to the human heart and spirit.” In short, musical writing is more effective.
So, write with your ears, and let your sentences sing.