Listening to the Music of Arsenio Rodriguez Is Moving Closer to Knowledge Themes

Victor Hernandez Cruz

Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The central feature of “Listening to the Music of Arsenio Rodriguez Is Moving Closer to Knowledge,” from the title to the final line (“Has it rained?”), is its lightheartedness and sense of whimsy. Some things, it says, such as sensuous music, cannot by analyzed; they should simply be experienced. If one is not capable of experiencing the music directly, one is simply not going to understand it.

One moves closer to awareness, self-worth, and knowledge through Arsenio Rodriguez’s music because its power to liquefy makes one feel a union of water and knowledge. The intrinsic qualities of warmth and passion in the music have a special appeal to the Caribbean Latino sensibility.

The poem’s vivid irony lies in the comparison of the researchers’ scrutiny of the pools of water with the knowledge the speaker and his friends gain from directly experiencing the music. The poem satirizes the academicians’ preoccupation with the puddles, since they are unaware of the water’s essence and intangible qualities. Theirs is the kind of intellect that cannot rise to “dance el son.” The neighbors, represented by Doña Flores, love the music and willingly liquefy under its spell. Flores means flowers, and, as Mrs. Flores is affected, so are the flowers in stanza 4 that “dance/in the wind.” The poem’s organic spontaneity creates a bridge in stanza 3 between Flores and flowers—the people, who are lively and beautiful, and the metaphorical essence and spirit of the people. The water is warm because it is those who are alive in their exultation who are transformed.

The ending of the poem leaves the explorer-researchers seeking answers and understanding to absurd questions. They have missed the beauty and truth of the music of Arsenio Rodriguez: They will never be wise.