Power of Music


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January 20, 2011
By Posted in busking | 1 Comment »

Every now and then I come across poetry about street musicians. This time I found a real gem – a poem about a street musician by Wordsworth! Written in 1806, it could have just as well be describing subway musicians and their audiences in the subway of NYC today:

POWER OF MUSIC/William Wordsworth

AN Orpheus! an Orpheus! yes, Faith may grow bold,
And take to herself all the wonders of old;–
Near the stately Pantheon you’ll meet with the same
In the street that from Oxford hath borrowed its name.

His station is there; and he works on the crowd,
He sways them with harmony merry and loud;
He fills with his power all their hearts to the brim–
Was aught ever heard like his fiddle and him?

What an eager assembly! what an empire is this!
The weary have life, and the hungry have bliss;
The mourner is cheered, and the anxious have rest;
And the guilt-burthened soul is no longer opprest.

As the Moon brightens round her the clouds of the night,
So He, where he stands, is a centre of light;
It gleams on the face, there, of dusky-browed Jack,
And the pale-visaged Baker’s, with basket on back.

That errand-bound ‘Prentice was passing in haste–
What matter! he’s caught–and his time runs to waste;
The Newsman is stopped, though he stops on the fret;
And the half-breathless Lamplighter–he’s in the net!

The Porter sits down on the weight which he bore;
The Lass with her barrow wheels hither her store;–
If a thief could be here he might pilfer at ease;
She sees the Musician, ’tis all that she sees!

He stands, backed by the wall;–he abates not his din
His hat gives him vigour, with boons dropping in,
From the old and the young, from the poorest; and there!
The one-pennied Boy has his penny to spare.

O blest are the hearers, and proud be the hand
Of the pleasure it spreads through so thankful a band;
I am glad for him, blind as he is!–all the while
If they speak ’tis to praise, and they praise with a smile.

That tall Man, a giant in bulk and in height,
Not an inch of his body is free from delight;
Can he keep himself still, if he would? oh, not he!
The music stirs in him like wind through a tree.

Mark that Cripple who leans on his crutch; like a tower
That long has leaned forward, leans hour after hour!–
That Mother, whose spirit in fetters is bound,
While she dandles the Babe in her arms to the sound.

Now, coaches and chariots! roar on like a stream;
Here are twenty souls happy as souls in a dream:
They are deaf to your murmurs–they care not for you,
Nor what ye are flying, nor what ye pursue!


Times Square, July, 2005, photographer: Oscar Durand

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One Response to Power of Music

  1. Dave on January 21, 2011 at 2:24 am

    That’s a great tribute to buskers! (And proves my theory that sometimes the so-called minor poems are the most fun.) My favorite line: “The music stirs in him like wind through a tree.”

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