If music be the food of love

“If music be the food of love, play on.
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken and so die.
That strain again! It had a dying fall.
O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odor. Enough; no more.
’Tis not so sweet now as it was before.
O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou,
That, notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, naught enters there,
Of what validity and pitch soe’er,
But falls into abatement and low price
Even in a minute. So full of shapes is fancy
That it alone is high fantastical.”

-Twelfth Night : William Shakespeare

The opening lines of the play contain some of the finest imagery used by Shakespeare. But the imagery is used merely to construct hyperbole intended to make fun of a romance pursued by Orsino for its own sake. Here is an entire drama of Elizabethan romance with all its trappings ,notably music. Music may be the food of love. Love does not happen by itself but is nurtured carefully by its staple food of music , by creating an ambiance for such romance to flourish. Love needs the food of music and so music should be played on to its excess. But music should not become the central passion but merely be played to an excess so that it quickly sickens and dies.

Apparently Orsino is not a music afficionado. If played continuously it becomes a surfeit and sickens to its death. Music is but a tool for romance and should not be allowed to become the leitmotif of the story. Orsino is merely building up his romance and has to follow the prevailing conventions for it . That strain again! Thank God, it has a dying fall. And beautiful like the sweet sound that breaths upon a bank of violets, stealing and giving odor. Music is but a soft sound breathing on a bank of violets, desired not for the melody of such a sound but for the odor it gives to and takes from the violets. Love is what the Duke pursues, the fragrance of a romance, the giving and the taking.

Orsino now gets into love proper.He addresses the spirit of love , quick and fresh ,that receiveth like the sea ,notwithstanding the joiner’s capacity. Nothing enters there without losing its form and shape. Like the sea that goes on ,irrespective of the countless streams and rivers that enter it,losing their shapes and their price.

“so full of shapes is fancy/that it alone is high fantastical” –Love receives within itself so many forms and is itself a fancy that is so high fantastical. Orsino’s love is mere fancy with no solid base and he is himself not sure about it. That is why he needs props like music.

If music be the food of love play on. If. But not too long .. Just that much which makes you sick of it and you go on to other things. Just the thing for a love novice .

(also found on the Shakespeare page)

“Siren Song”- By Margaret Atwood

This is the one song everyone
would like to learn: the song
that is irresistible:

the song that forces men
to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see beached skulls

the song nobody knows
because anyone who had heard it
is dead, and the others can’t remember.
Shall I tell you the secret
and if I do, will you get me
out of this bird suit?
I don’t enjoy it here
squatting on this island
looking picturesque and mythical
with these two feathery maniacs,
I don’t enjoy singing
this trio, fatal and valuable.

I will tell the secret to you,
to you, only to you.
Come closer. This song

is a cry for help: Help me!
Only you, only you can,
you are unique

at last. Alas
it is a boring song
but it works every time.

Most of the metaphors used here have a certain tongue-in-cheek quality as if they are used to merely laugh at the subject, the poem’s theme and in the manner of presenting it- a sort of the poet enjoying herself. The sirens are Greek mythological allusions, deliberately introduced to get a laugh about the so called feminine power derived from attractive helplessness. The allure the sirens have for the sailors is derived from their song everyone would like to learn that is so irresistible but the song is not heard by anybody because everybody who has heard it is dead and if anybody alive has heard it he does not remember it. Which means we have no verifiable evidence of the existence of such a song.

May be the song never existed or the sirens. it is the same song that made sailors fling themselves overboard in droves(squadrons) in pursuit of the sirens , while fully aware of the beached skulls that were the earlier sailors who attempted a similar misadventure. Such is the fatal charm of the three sirens whose song pulls the wary sailors to the islands only to turn them into beached skulls.

“beached skulls” is erstwhile sailors drowned in the sea pulled by the sirens song and have landed on the beach. But was the song so captivating that men died by it? Actually, that is not true, between the two of us, says one of the sirens.It is just a cry for help.It does not the exemplify the power of female charms or the melody of its song . And the song is such a boring one! Somehow it seems to work all the time.

But female charms do endure.They make you feel you are unique and only the one who can deliver the sirens from their situation.The damsels in distress do need valiant souls to come to their rescue.

The whole situation of the sirens is not all that picturesque as we may imagine. The three sirens have to squat in the islands, far from the picture of an idyllic situation. They “squat” between them , the three feathery creatures singing their boring song .In addition, they have to wear that stupid bird costume all the time. All for the pleasure of looking picturesque and mythical.

The poet makes fun of the traditional female allure that is supposed to exercise power over the male by fatal attraction. It takes a lot of effort to keep up the myth of female power over men.In the whole process she debunks the archtype of female desirability cultivated from apparent helplessness.

“The Brook” by Alfred Lord Tennyson

I come from haunts of coot and hern,
I make sudden sally
And sparkle out among the fern,
To bicker down a valley.

By thirty hills I hurry down,
Or slip between the ridges,
By twenty thorps, a little town,
And half a hundred bridges.

* * *

I chatter over stony ways,
In little sharps and trebles,
I bubble into eddying bays,
I babble on the pebbles.

With many a curve my banks I fret
By many a field and fallow,
And many a fairy foreland set
With willow-weed and mallow.

* * *

And here and there a foamy lake
Upon me, as I travel
With many a silvery waterbreak
Above the golden gravel,

And draw them all along, and flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

Apart from the delightful simpilcity of this nature poem by Tennyson,we may look at the sensory images he creates about the brook’s journey notably the auditory and visual ones.

I make a sudden sally
and sparkle out among the fern
to bicker down a valley

The start of the brook’s journey is described in just three lines, so full of detail compressed in sixteen words. The detail is amazing:

A sudden sally : The brook starts at the haunt of the coot and hern.Just picture a calm starting point with coots and herns flying about in peace. Suddenly the brook starts its sally , a military metaphor for an attack by the defenders of a town under seige. The brook starts flowing among the fern sparkling in the sun against their green .And then it bickers down a valley, continuing its aggression. To bicker is to quarrel loudly.To bicker down a valley suggests an abrupt noisy fall. Repeat “s” in suden sally/sparkle out” suggest softness of flow followed by abrupt “down a valley”.

By thirty hills I hurry down,
Or slip between the ridges,
By twenty thorps, a little town,
And half a hundred bridges.

The numbers thirty, twenty, half a hundred are meant to convey the enormous speed the brook picks up as it passes the hills, thorps, ridges,a town, half a hundred bridges.

The brook is personified with two human attributes :running and babbling. The running is a continuous activity that goes on ,now fast on the ridges and now slow in the plains.The running never stops unlike of men who come and go:

…men may come ,men may go
But I go on for ever

Men come only to go but not the brook that goes on for ever.Its chatter in the woods will never stop.It goes on for ever.

The simple musical lines in monosyllables are so much like the babble of a brook

Men may come/ men may go
But I go on /for ever

Men merely come and they go. But the brook goes on and on.

The poet achieves a rare kind of musical density in each stanza by repetition of a single sound ;

“b” in

I bubble into eddying bays,
I babble on the pebbles
“y” in

And here and there a foamy lake
Upon me, as I travel
With many a silvery waterbreak
Above the golden gravel,

“f” in

With many a curve my banks I fret
By many a field and fallow,
And many a fairy foreland set
With willow-weed and mallow

And “ow” in


Of course,the dominant sense employed is the auditory one:

bubble , babble, chatter ,bicker, fret.