The song “Amazing Grace,” perhaps the most popular spiritual in the West, makes its song-like point explicitly—“how sweet the sound which saved a wretch like me.” It is the song itself, the very sound of the song itself, which “saves” the wretched listener—a fully secular message—that even an atheist can understand—as well as a profoundly religious one. Religion’s going to convert you—with a secular trick, with a song. Is a singing a religious thing? Does it matter? When is a partnership an invasion?
Finally, what does poetry have to say about all this? And the poetry critic—which is finally what Scarriet represents?
“Amazing Grace” makes us think of singing, not poetry. Poetry and song belong to each other, and yet song will more easily go off and serve religion. Poetry isn’t sure.
Music makes me lose my mind. Poetry finds it, again.
If the “sound” saves the wretch, the good songwriter exactly matches the sound with the words, and if both sound and words are necessary, the narrower sound logically should call the shots, since the smaller set always commands the larger one, in any successful endeavor.
If the army told the general what to do, the war would be lost, not because the general is smarter than the army, but because the general is one, and the army is many.
Words will always be the army, since words and their multiple combinations and denotations are a vast universe; music is a simple hurdy-gurdy moan by comparison. Acrobatic words are a circus, a city, a world. Music is the lone troll hiding under the hill.
The music is the lesser, so the music is the commander of the words.
Especially, and this defines poetry—in that war, that mission, that conflict, which we call poetry.
The sound saves the wretch. The sound, not the words, is the general, the God.
You are saved by the troll hiding under the hill.
The genius of Hank Williams, like all great songwriters (and poets) is that the words, taught and led and infected by the music, become a kind of music in themselves, which in turn, re-infects the sound, until music is poetry and poetry is music, and the army is God and the army is commanding itself, and religion and belief and secularism and nature and humans and music and words and sorrow and escape-from-sorrow are one.
Hear that lonesome whippoorwill? He sounds too sad to fly. The midnight train is whining low. I’m so lonesome I could cry.
To analyze this would be to damage it. The beauty of it should be apparent without explanation. We trust, with the faith of a believer, that it is.
We only might remark that an educated voice might object that Hank Williams, the poet, sentimentally imposes a human quality—“lonesome” on the bird; but “lonesome” can mean simply “lone” or “one,” and yet, who does not believe that beasts can feel lonely—if not inanimate objects like trains? When the poet boldly and ingeniously uses the word a second time, it does slide over into the more human—and into our hearts.