The last poem from Harper’s collection Healing Song for the Inner Ear, “Peace on Earth” concludes a triad in which Harper moves beyond his previous addresses to and descriptions of jazz giants to enter the mind and soul of John Coltrane. Using a structure of separate image clusters produced by groupings of two and three lines, Harper not only recapitulates the highlights of Coltrane’s life and work but also maintains a correspondence between the music and his own poetry, finding parallels between Coltrane’s compositions and many of his own efforts.
Like the melodic motifs of a jazz composition, the twin themes of the sublime, transformative force of artistic inspiration fused with the idea of an artist’s responsibility to the cultural legacy of his community are interwoven throughout the poem. The poem begins with an image of spiritual transcendence, as the speaker declares that moments of inspiration are closely connected to an attitude of religious reverence. “Tunes come to me at morning/ prayer,” he says, extending the thought to include the nature of an individual’s obligation to human decency by recalling how he “prayed at the shrine/ for the war dead broken/ at Nagasaki.” This reference carries the poem beyond a specific local culture to an international linkage of human beings. The immediacy of his personal response, “the tears on the lip of my soprano/ glistened in the sun,” establishes a close identification...
(The entire section is 547 words.)