Through Sound

Over the last week, my thoughts have been lingering on a single idea that was brought up in class (though I can’t remember how or by whom): can a poem deliver meaning by sound alone? Can words be paired in a way in which the mere pronunciation of them gets a message through to the reader? Or does a poem need to be a string of words that make literal sense for someone to understand it?

I mentioned in class last week that I love listening to foreign languages, especially through music. Like poetry, music can have an emotional impact on us. It can inspire, relax, and excite us. It can trigger memories. I often associate songs with the times I first heard them. So some piano pieces by Brian Crain will remind me of a rainy day, and anything by Owl City brings me back to summer. If sound from music can have this effect, why not language? I have a special love for Japanese, probably because I’ve been listening to it one way or another since I was fourteen. Because I’m so used to hearing it, the language has become as familiar to me as my own. Its familiarity is comforting to me and has a homey feeling. Even though I don’t understand most of it, the sounds of the words have meaning to me.

For this reason, I’d say it’s more than possible for sound to have meaning on its own in poetry. It could be difficult to understand poetry that way when you’re trying to make sense of the words. If you’re reading the poem, the sight of the words could be distracting. So maybe listening to someone else read it would help put more focus on the sounds. When you simply listen, a foreign language (or a poem written in gibberish) can provide meaning.

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