From: The Bird and the Bell with Other Poems (1875)
Author: Christopher Pearse Cranch
Published: Osgood and Company 1875 Boston



WHEN “Music, Heavenly Maid,” was very young,
She did not sing as poets say she sung.
Unlike the mermaids of the fairy tales,
She paid but slight attention to her scales.
Besides, poor thing! she had no instruments
But such as rude barbaric art invents.
There were no Steinways then, no Chickerings,
No spinnets, harpsichords, or metal strings;
No hundred-handed orchestras, no schools
To corset her in contrapuntal rules.
Some rude half-octave of a shepherd’s song,
Some childish strumming all the summer long
On sinews stretched across a tortoise-shell,
Such as they say Apollo loved so well;
Some squeaking flageolet or scrannel pipe,
Some lyre poetic of the banjo type,—
Such were the means she summoned to her aid,
Prized as divine; on these she sang or played.
Music was then an infant, while she saw
Her sister arts full grown. Greece stood in awe
Before the Phidian Jove. Apelles drew
And Zeuxis painted. Marble temples “grew
As grows the grass”; and never saw the sun
A statelier vision than the Parthenon.
But she, the Muse who in these latter days
Lifts us and floats us in the golden haze
Of melodies and harmonies divine,
And steeps our souls and senses in such wine
As never Ganymede nor Hebe poured
For gods, when quaffing at the Olympian board,—
She, Heavenly Maid, must ply her music thin,
And sit and thrum her tinkling mandolin,
Chant her rude staves, and only prophesy
Her far-off days of immortality.
E’en so poor Cinderella, when she cowered
Beside her hearth, and saw her sisters, dowered
With grace and wealth, go forth to accomplish all
Their haughty triumphs at the Prince’s ball,
While she in russet gown sat mournfully
Singing her “Once a king there chanced to be,”
Yet knows her prince will come; her splendid days
Are all foreshadowed in her dreaming gaze.
Then, as the years and centuries rolled on,
Like Santa-Clauses they have come and gone,
Bringing all means of utterance to the Muse.
No penny-trumpets, such as children use,
No barbarous Indian drums, no twanging lutes,
No buzzing Jews-harps, no Pandean flutes,
Were stuffed into her stockings, though they hung
On Time’s great chimney, as when she was young;
But every rare and costly instrument
That skill can fabricate or art invent,—
Pianos, organs, viols, horns, trombones,
Hautboys, and clarinets with reedy tones,
Boehm-flutes and comets, bugles, harps, bassoons,
Huge double-basses, kettle-drum half-moons,
And every queer contrivance made for tunes.
Through these the master-spirits round her throng,
And Europe rings with instruments and song.
Through these she breathes her wondrous symphonies,
Enchanting airs, and choral litanies.
Through these she speaks the word that never dies,
The universal language of the skies.
Around her gather those who held their art
To be of life the clearest, noblest part.
Bach, Handel, Haydn, and Mozart are there;
Beethoven, chief of all. The southern air
Is ringing with Rossini’s birdlike notes;
About the north more earnest music floats,
Where Weber, Schumann, Schubert, Mendelssohn,
And long processions of the lords of Tone
All come to attend her. Like a queen enthroned
She sits and rules the realms she long has owned,
And sways the willing sense, the aspiring soul,
Where thousands bow before her sweet control.
Ah! greater than all words of mine can say,
The heights, the depths, the glories, of that sway.
No mortal tongue can bring authentic speech
Of that enchanted world beyond its reach;
No tongue but hers, when, lifted on the waves
Of Tone and Harmony, beyond the graves
Of all we lose, we drift entranced away
Out of the discords of the common day;
And she, the immortal goddess, on her breast
Lulls us to visions of a sweet unrest,
Smiles at the tyrannies of time and space,
And folds us in a mother’s fond embrace,
Till, sailing on upon that mystic sea,
We feel that Life is Immortality.

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