Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 535

“Stanzas for Music” is a poem concerned with idealized love. In his definitive Byron: A Biography (1957), Leslie Marchand proposes that Byron’s inspiration for the poem was John Edleston, a choirboy to whom Byron formed a romantic attachment while at Cambridge and whose death in 1811 inspired the five elegiac “Thyrza” poems. Byron created the female persona Thyrza to express, as he said in his diary, “the violent, though pure, love and passion” he felt for Edleston. His description of Thyrza in “ If Sometimes in the Haunts of Men’” as “too like a dream of Heaven,/ For earthly Love to merit thee” corresponds to the platonic ideal of a love that transcends sexuality at the core of “Stanzas for Music.” There is no physical dimension to the love articulated in the poem. Despite Byron’s use of vigorous natural imagery, the intense feelings the poem conveys occur on a purely emotional level and almost entirely within the poet’s imagination.

Love is the theme of many lyrical poems, but it has a special significance for Byron and the Romantic poets. “In the broad Romantic application of the term love,’” Meyer H. Abrams writes in Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature (1971), “all modes of human attraction are conceived as one in kind, different only in object and degree, in a range which includes the relations of lover to beloved, children to parents, brother to sister, friend to friend, and individual to humanity. The orbit of love was often enlarged to include the relationship of man to nature as well.” In “Stanzas for Music,” Byron describes the ideal love of the poet for his beloved in terms of several of these relationships. In a different context, the amorous feelings of lovers, the affection of mother for child, and humankind’s awe at the mystery of nature might seem very different emotions that bear little relationship to one another. In the poem, however, Byron presents them as flowing from a single pure source. In keeping with the poem’s musical format, one could say that the various manifestations of love Byron addresses in the poem are harmonic expressions of the same theme.

“Stanzas for Music” is an example of what Abrams refers to as “natural supernaturalism,” the Romantic poets’ tendency “to naturalize the supernatural and to humanize the divine.” The poem ennobles the person to whom it is addressed by endowing him or her with uncommon powers that are all the more extraordinary for their unconscious expression. It frames supernatural experience in terms of natural phenomena that are universally recognized and understood. In essence, the poem suggests that a love relationship as strong as that known to the poet offers the same emotional fulfillment as an encounter with the divine. It is worth noting that Byron wrote this poem shortly after another love lyric entitled “Stanzas for Music” was published in Hebrew Melodies, a collection of verse written to be set to traditional synagogue music. Byron clearly perceived an association between love and religious experience. Although the poem is steeped in the ideology of Byron and his time, the reverent tone and emotional intensity of “Stanzas for Music” make it seem as timeless as a devotional prayer.

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