The Poem

“Stanzas for Music” is a brief lyric poem of sixteen lines, one of five that Byron wrote with the same title. As its title suggests, it was written to be set to music, and its musical qualities have bearing upon its theme and structure.

The poem is written as an address by the poet to a person with whom he is infatuated. It is couched in feminine references and is most conveniently discussed as a love lyric to a woman, but it is important to note that the gender of the addressee is never specified. For that matter, the word love is never mentioned. The tone of the poem is one of adoration, and the poet carefully chooses words and images to evoke emotions that transcend feelings of simple affection. In the first two lines, for example, he creates a persona for his addressee by comparing her favorably to “Beauty’s daughters.” By alluding that she is more enchanting than the children of a personified ideal, he endows her with a godlike presence. He reinforces this apotheosis through the application of synecdoche, the use of a part or element to suggest a whole. The only aspect of the addressee that the poet describes is her voice, and just as readers are able to infer the totality of the Old Testament God from his manifestation as a disembodied voice, so can they envision a being of divine nature from the phenomena for which the woman’s voice alone is responsible.

The poet conveys the majesty of his subject by comparing her effect...

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Forms and Devices

In “Stanzas for Music,” there is a fundamental tension between form and content that contributes to the poem’s effect. The poem was written to be set to music; this fact is evident from its songlike structure. Its sixteen lines are broken into two stanzas of eight lines apiece. Each stanza is thus composed of a quatrain followed by two rhyming couplets, not unlike a song in which each verse is followed by a chorus. The poem is composed with musical precision and balance: It begins with a subjective observation, supports this observation with objective description, and concludes with an image that synthesizes its subjective and objective elements. The theme of the poem, however, refuses to be contained within such a tidy structure.

The poet hopes to elaborate the overwhelming emotion his subject excites in him through a series of similes that evoke the awe and splendor of the natural world: “like music on the waters/ Is thy sweet voice to me:/ When, as if its sound were causing/ The charmed ocean’s pausing.” Similes, though, are at best only approximations. They suggest equivalence through powerful comparisons, but they do not fully capture the uniqueness of what is being compared. There is an ineffable quality to the woman that resists definition, and it is this quality which earns the poet’s adoration.

The tension between the poem’s form and content is mirrored in Byron’s use of nature imagery. Like other poets of the...

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