why is plainchant poetry?

“…all Gregorian chants have a special unmistakable character, which provides their particular attraction and fascination. The reason for this is to be sought in the principles, common to all these compositions, on which the text is set to music. The relationship between words and music is such that the melody is entirely determined by the text, down to the last detail, resulting in a “word melody” in the fullest sense.

The texts are either treated “syllabically,” i.e. with one note per syllable, or “melismatically,” with a single syllable being set to several notes. A “melisma,” that is to say the rich adornment of a syllable or a high note, creates a special emphasis within the melody, and important syllables or words are highlighted in this way.”

From sleeve notes for Gregorian chant performances by the Schola Cantorum of Amsterdam Students.  I’m a big fan of GC without knowing anything much about it at all, mostly I think because plainchant is the only vocal music I can stand to have on while working or trying to do anything requiring focused thought.  Whale Child and his older brother don’t exactly clamour for it, but they do carry on quite happily with whatever they are doing while it’s on (which is quite an endorsement, believe me) and I imagine when they’re older they’ll unthinkingly hunt down GC by various Schola Cantorum manifestations, the way my siblings and I have all somehow managed to acquire over the years parental music foibles such as The Pearl Fishers and The World of Miriam Makeba and Poems, Prayers & Promises (you heard me, all three times. I don’t actually think I really like any of them, but at this point that’s like saying I hate my nails or I hate my butt. No doubt you do, but hey, they’re yours — get over it.)

Anyhow, that whole melismatic thing is very attractive. This Wiki article goes into more detail:

“.. some melismatic chants have syllables that are sung to a long series of notes, ranging from five or six notes per syllable to over sixty..”

How’s that for a poetic device to highlight important words or syllables? Sixty notes per syllable! Chalk one up for music.  

قيس و ليلى

That says Qays and Layla. Remember how Miss Marple always said that one need look no further than the smallest village’s insular life to find the full range of human potential and experience? The more I travel the world and the more places I live, the more I am convinced of the truth of this in the bonest part of my bones, and the more uninteresting the surface ways people try to differentiate themselves from each other and give themselves a sense of belonging somewhere special become.  I find it harder and harder to be interested in local customs and traditions in each new place I live.  

What is more interesting is identifying the Hans DeWitt or the Susannah Peters or the Seck family in each community, whatever the country, whatever the continent. Because the same people are always there, everywhere, wherever. 

a moon of your own


The Moon is an accurate curved relief of the real thing, and is designed to be mounted on your bedroom wall. Using a mini remote control, you can control the phases of the moon or leave it on automatic and watch it phase through twelve stages, from Waning Crescent through Waxing Gibbous to New Moon.

You know you want one. From I Want One of Those.

punctuation angst

I can so relate to this post from Stick Poet Super Hero. Some days I’ll want a piece all punctuated and nicely capped — totally strict and very prim with its shoelaces tied and hair parted – and other days, I’ll want the same piece in muddy bare feet running up a hillside and singing a raucous song – with no caps and just maybe a vagrant comma or two.

I’m not very good at perceiving personal trends, but it seems to me that the more I move away from work-shopping, the barer and raucouser things seem to be getting.

Which may or may not be a good thing.

The Politics of Acts of Fiction

Sefton adds a meaty comment to the What Makes the Personal Political post below (scroll down to the end of the comments). Including poetry in fiction, he argues that fiction’s modes of construction and operation are inherently political, so that fiction as a whole acts a kind of subversive sleeper agent. 

Hm. I might buy the argument in concept, but would definitely regard it as a separate one from the what is engaged literature question.  


Lorsque, par un décret des puissances suprêmes,
Le Poète apparaît en ce monde ennuyé,
Sa mère épouvantée et pleine de blasphèmes
Crispe ses poings vers Dieu, qui la prend en pitié:

— «Ah! que n’ai-je mis bas tout un noeud de vipères,
Plutôt que de nourrir cette dérision!
Maudite soit la nuit aux plaisirs éphémères
Où mon ventre a conçu mon expiation!

etc etc. This stuff barely works in the original, and has pretty much no chance in translation (scroll down at link).  

I suppose back in the day being a poet was a trade, a profession, a thing one was. Now it’s just a fold in one’s life, a crease, a thing that the important people in one’s life cannot fathom and have zero interest in. A sixth finger kind of thing.