Ten thousand, men hewn and tumbling,
Mobs of ten thousand, clashing together,
This way and that.
Slowly, one man, savager than the rest,
Rose up, tallest, in the black sun,
Stood up straight in the air, struck off
The clutch of the others.
And, according to the composer, this butcher,
Held in his hand the suave egg-diamond
That had flashed (like vicious music that ends
In transparent accords).
It would have been better, the time conceived,
To have had him holding--what?
His arm would be trembling, he would be weak,
Even though he shouted.
The sky would be full of bodies like wood.
There would have been the cries of the dead
And the living would be speaking,
As a self that lives on itself.
It would have been better for his hands
To be convulsed, to have remained the hands
Of one wilder than the rest (like music blunted,
Yet the sound of that).
This poem, called "Thunder by the Musician," is by Wallace Stevens, an American Modernist poet. Stevens has a countless amount of poems that mention music, from "Asides on the Oboe" to "The Creations of Sound" to "Peter Quince at the Clavier." Steven's words flow like liquid pouring into a complicated vase (I'm obviously in the simile mood); they seem effortless, but do not take on the so often encountered beatnik-like forms of free verse. Instead, his words fall into an immaculate structure. Not only does his structure reflect the pinnacle of what music is, but he also often uses puns and double meanings (for example: "The old brown hen and the old blue sky, between the two we live and die..." from "Continual Conversation with a Silent Man," has been thought of as a pun on the word "hen" for Henology, or "The One"). In music, one of the highest goals is to transcend past the black and white notes, and Stevens succeeds this goal only in the realm of words.
I chose to share this poem not only because of its supposed subject matter, but because of its enigma. The reader knows that it has to do with music, and the easy route would be to assume that the poem is an allegory for the emotion from a certain piece of music by the composer he discusses. Maybe I don't know enough about the philosophy that motivated Stevens so much, but I still have yet to come to this poem's "conclusion"... but that's what makes Stevens Stevens and what makes music music. There is always more to uncover. In "Continual Conversation with a Silent Man," Stevens also discusses the ambiguity of religion (his "supreme Fiction" idea), and I think that this can also relate to music incredibly well. Everyone has ideas of how music is meant to make us feel or what it is meant to convey, but no one will ever be correct, possibly not even the composer. Words and music perform similar tasks in very different ways; they create the inception of ideas, and that is a powerful thing to accomplish.