Jacki Kellum

Juxtapositions: Read My Mind

Category: Poetry

When Words Fail, Music and Poetry Connect

Writing is difficult, and one of its greatest challenges stems from the fact that words, which are mere strings of letters, are clumsy in their attempts to convey emotion.  Writers arrange letters together in formats that have become standardized symbols for something else. For instance, the letters “a-p-p-l-e” are recognized as symbolic of a red fruit that grows on trees and is usually harvested in fall. If a writer adds other words, he might foster emotions about the red fruit or he might remind the reader of the fruit’s tartness, its, crunchiness, and its juiciness. If the writer is able to carefully juxtapose other letters around the word “apple,” the reader may leap toward memories of a grandmother and the rolling of homemade pie crust, and of warm, cinnamon desserts topped with vanilla ice cream. Yet, by merely spelling the word “a-p-p-l-e,” a writer is telling his readers very little. A writer must add more strings of letters and a bit of polish to the letters before hopefully, the letters can begin to mean. Music, on the other hand, has a more direct impact than simple strings of words.

The ancient Tao Te Ching says that as soon as we begin to verbalize a feeling, the emotion vanishes. In other words, the ancient Asians recognized that there is a vein of emotion within us that defies being conveyed through words.

Chapter 1 – Tao Te Ching

The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The named is the mother of myriad things 

Some believe that music has the power to connect in ways that words often fail.

Music is the shorthand of emotion. – Leo Tolstoy

Image result for jacki kellum language of the birds

I believe that music, for humans, is like the language of the birds.


In Ancient Greece, music was believed to have an almost magical power of communication.

Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything. – Plato

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the movie Out of Africa. I have seen that movie several times before, and the music of that movie helps make it monumental. As I watched the movie again this past Thursday, I entered the Out of Africa experience as soon as I heard the music. The music of Out of Africa had become a type of shorthand link into my mind. The music could communicate to me in a way that words could not, and that is why I prefer excellent movies to reading. A well-made movie employs several passages into the spirit.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about the inadequacy of words. He said that a child who feels about what is around him understands better than the scientist who tries to capsulize life into words. Emerson adds that poetry, unlike logical words, does have a music-like power to connect:

Science was false by being unpoetical. It assumed to explain a reptile or mollusk, and isolated it…. The metaphysician, the poet, only sees each animal form as an inevitable step in the path of the creating mind. The Indian, the hunter, the boy with his pets, have sweeter knowledge of these than the savant. …The poet knows the missing link by the joy it gives. The poet gives us the eminent experiences only,–a god stepping from peak to peak, nor planting his foot but on a mountain.

. . .

Poetry is the perpetual endeavor to express the spirit of the thing, to pass the brute body and search the life and reason which causes it to exist….It is a presence of mind that gives a miraculous command of all means of uttering the thought and feeling of the moment.

. . .

Imagination.–Whilst common sense looks at things or visible Nature as real and final facts, poetry, or the imagination which dictates it, is a second sight, looking through these, and using them as types or words for thoughts which they signify.

. . .

A poet comes who lifts the veil; gives them glimpses of the laws of the universe….

The solid men complain that the idealist leaves out the fundamental facts; the poet complains that the solid men leave out the sky.

Read More Here

Autumn scene. Fall. Trees and leaves in sun light

Ralph Waldo Emerson sought to explain through words how poetry communicates the essence of life that is beyond words:

No definition of poetry is adequate unless it be poetry itself. The most accurate analysis by the rarest wisdom is yet insufficient, and the poet will instantly prove it false by setting aside its requisitions. It is indeed all that we do not know. The poet does not need to see how meadows are something else than earth, grass, and water, but how they are thus much. He does not need discover that potato blows are as beautiful as violets, as the farmer thinks, but only how good potato blows are. The poem is drawn out from under the feet of the poet, his whole weight has rested on this ground. It has a logic more severe than the logician’s.  You might as well think to go in pursuit of the rainbow, and embrace it on the next hill, as to embrace the whole of poetry even in thought. – Emerson

Jacki Kellum Garden

I have a beautiful garden, and I often say that I am a nature watcher, but that is not the absolute truth. I do more than simply watch nature. Nature entrances me. I like to lose myself in nature. I like to become one with nature.  Nature communicates the primordial to me in ways that words hardly ever do.

“I find peace where the sun kissed leaves dance in the melody of the cool breeze that floats through the air.” ― Saim Cheeda

At times, I also connect with music and/or poetry  in that primordial way. The power of poetry is not that of its words, because words themselves are weak vessels. The power of poetry lies within its ability to capture and distill life itself.

©Jack Kellum August 20, 2017


When Sometimes A Sound Simply Seems – The Language of the Birds


If you think about it for a moment, you will probably realize that the words that humans have codified to convey meaning are clumsy, at best.  Yet, that is the construct of writing. We form letters together, and we expect our readers to take a leap of faith and to connect them to some greater understanding. For instance, we might expect the letters “a-p-p-l-e” to, by some magic, make us feel all tart, crunchy, juicy, and red inside. Yet, by merely spelling the word “apple,” a writer is telling his readers very little. A writer must add a bit of polish to the letters and hopefully, the letters can begin to mean. Music has an ability to communicate emotions and understandings that lie deep within our soul, and I believe that we are more directly impacted by music than we are by words.

Music is the shorthand of emotion. – Leo Tolstoy

I believe that music, for humans, is like the language of the birds.

During the medieval period, people believed that in their singing, birds had a more direct means of communicating than that of words.

The Tao says that feeling cannot be conveyed verbally and that as soon as we begin to verbalize a feeling, the emotion vanishes. In other words, the ancient Asians recognized that there is a vein of emotion within us that defies being conveyed through words.  In Ancient Greece, music was believed to have an almost magical power of communication.

Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything. – Plato

While our words and our sentences and even our paragraphs are often impotent in trying to express, nonsensical words juxtaposed together can be very effective. In some instances, sounds made by strings of words become a kind of music that, in an almost indescribable way, speaks to the soul:

“A bouquet of clumsy words: you know that place between sleep and awake where you’re still dreaming but it’s slowly slipping? I wish we could feel like that more often. I also wish I could click my fingers three times and be transported to anywhere I like. I wish that people didn’t always say ‘just wondering’ when you both know there was a real reason behind them asking. And I wish I could get lost in the stars.

Listen, there’s a hell of a good universe next door, let’s go.” ― E.E. Cummings

In the above poem, E.E. Cummings has juxtaposed some phrases that should not mean at all, but they do. Because of the way that he pulls his words together, the E.E. Cummings’ phrases assume a musicality that speaks  on its own merit.

“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” – Victor Hugo

Wallace Stevens wrote a poem that should be even more ridiculous to the reader, but somehow it isn’t:

Bantams in Pine Woods
by Wallace Stevens

Chieftain Iffucan of Azcan in caftan
Of tan with henna hackles, halt!
Damned universal cock, as if the sun
Was blackamoor to bear your blazing tail.
Fat! Fat! Fat! Fat! I am the personal.
Your world is you. I am my world.
You ten-foot poet among inchlings. Fat!
Begone! An inchling bristles in these pines,
Bristles, and points their Appalachian tangs,
And fears not portly Azcan nor his hoos.
From the first time that I read the above poem, I liked it–I even felt that I understood it, but my understanding was not something literal. Rather, the sounds in Stevens’ poem are notched together like pearls on a string  and somehow together they mean–in a subliminal way, the words mean.

Nature communicates with me in a similar way.

“I find peace where the sun kissed leaves dance in the melody of the cool breeze that floats through the air.” ― Saim Cheeda


I believe that there are musical notes and sounds that feel right to us and that there are elements of nature that feel right in a similar way. I further believe that all of us have within ourselves a need for order–a need for those indescribable things that are simply just right, and I ultimately believe that when we deviate from that elemental rightnesss, we begin to suffer or to long for its return. That is when  clumsy sounds can connect to each other and can speak to us in a subliminal way, and that is when nonsensical phrases mean.

©Jacki Kellum October 13, 2016


Write to Experience the Power of Words – in Sounds

Good poetry harnesses the sounds of words, as well as their meanings. Consider the sound of the word “twinkle.” The very sound of the word is a twinkling.

by Jacki Kellum

Twinkle twinkle in the night,
Glitter, glimmer kind of light,
Sparkle, shimmer, winking sight,
Twinkle, twinkle in the night.

Contrast the word “twinkle” with the word “glare.”

by Jacki Kellum

Glare, glare in the air,
Blaring beacon brilliant flare,
Casting shadows everywhere,
Glare, glare in the air.

The meanings of the words “twinkle” and “glare” are different, but their sounds are different, too, and the sounds of the words contribute greatly to our reactions.

The other day, I was looking for a free musical piece that twinkled. I wanted it for a digital movie that I was making. Jamendo is a site that has free musical pieces for this sort of thing, but it is difficult to find exactly what you want.  There is a search feature on the site, and in order to search, I entered several words or phrases that I felt captured the spirit of the music that I wanted. I don’t remember every term that I searched, but I do remember entering the word”twinkle” and the phrase “music box.” Something that twinkles has a kind of music-box feeling about it. The twinkle of an eye is not a glare or a stare. A twinkling of an eye is like a lyrical flutter–with a bit of pixie dust splashing about. It is a blinking, flickering glance. On the other hand, a glare is cold and hard and frozen in place, and the word itself is frozen and hard. The word itself does not flutter. The word “twinkle” does flutter.

It is hard to explain this, but listen to the following music that twinkles. The music itself twinkles, and the sounds of the twinkling evoke feeling–regardless of the language used:

In all 12 of the following vahttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gs58AYgIJlcriations of Twinkle, Twinkle, Mozart recreates the essence of stars:

All of our writings are improved when we can capture sounds–especially when we can harness sounds that evoke feeling, but a scrutinous use of sound is essential in writing poetry.

©Jacki Kellum September 7, 2016



Let Them Eat Cake – Romanticism and Its Link to the French Revolution

The French Revolution was a time of political unrest directed toward the royalty of France and its insensitivity to the poor. Contrary to popular opinion, the revolt was not led by the impoverished, but it was led by the more affluent and the writers and the artists who revolted for the poor.

Image result for William Wordsworth
In 1792-1792, the English poet William Wordsworth was living in France, and he was influenced by the ideals of the French Revolution. When he returned to England, his book Lyrical Ballads was published. In the Preface to the book, Wordsworth laid out his plan for a new kind of writing that would be about the common man and would be written for the common, everyday man.  This was a break with the Classical tradition. I explain the differences between Romanticism and Classicism  Here. 


Marie Antoinette was the last of the French Queens and she is the embodiment of the French aristocracy’s insensitivity, which led to the French Revolution. She is quoted as having said, “Let Them Eat Cake,” but there is no proof that she actually said that.

Image result for a tale of two cities

After the French Revolution had ended, the Charles Dickens book The Tale of Two Cities was published. The book was about the French Revolution, which had taken place much earlier. The Tale of Two Cities popularized the quote: “Let Them Eat Cake.” Charles Dickens was not one of the Romanticists, but he was influenced by them.

In a round-about way, the attitude associated with the people who might have said: “Let Them Eat Cake” led to the Romantic period, which was more than a literary tradition. Romanticism was a celebration of the everyday, common man and of Nature itself, which surrounds the everyday man. It was a reaction against the Industrial Revolution, which had abused and enslaved children to work in the mines and factories, to be chimney sweeps, and to survive deplorable conditions so that the wealthy could flourish and could numbly mumble about those that they oppressed such things as, “Let Them Eat Cake,” or:

“At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge, … it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?”
“Plenty of prisons…”
“And the Union workhouses.” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“Both very busy, sir…”
“Those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
– Charles Dickens – The Christmas Carol

Book Cover Free ebook of The Christmas Carol Here

Again, Charles Dickens was not actually a Romanticist, but his writing was highly influenced by Romanticism. William Blake, on the other hand, was a champion of Romanticism, and his work was dedicated to elevating the lifestyles of the people that he believed had been ruined by the Industrial Revolution. He was especially moved to help the children. His poem The Chimney Sweeper was a reaction against the practice of forcing young children to be chimney sweepers, a practice that caused the children to become deformed and to die young.

Image result for blake chimney sweeper

Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience are manifestations of his concern for children. An Overview of William Blake and his role in Romanticism is Here.

Image result for blake songs of innocence and experience

Although it was half a century ago, I remember the day that my high school English teacher introduced me to William Blake. I immediately connected to Blake’s writing and his illustrations for his writing. In college, I majored both in English and in art, and I wrote my first master’s thesis on William Blake. Without a doubt, everything about me says that I am a Romantic, and everything within me is glad that I am.

©September 5, 2016 Jacki Kellum


The History Channel on The French Revolution Here

Adlestrop – A Poem by Edward Thomas

Image result for adlestrop

by Edward Thomas

Yes, I remember Adlestrop –
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop – only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Edward Thomas (1878–1917)


The Lake Isle of Innisfree Poem by William Butler Yeats & in Music – A Poem Inspired by Memory

Image result for lake isle of innisfree

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

by William Butler Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Innisfree is a small island in Ireland on the Lake Lough Gill, which means Radiant Water.

It is in the area where William Butler Yeats grew up, and the poem came to him as an adult, while he was living a more hurried and harried life in London. When Yeats was a child, he spent summer days on the Isle of Innisfree, and it had been his dream to one day live there, in a small cabin.

This is an example of a memory of childhood that flourished into a brilliant poem and later, into music. Some would say that William Butler Yeats was Ireland’s greatest poet, but this poem has influenced many people from all over the world.

The following is from Wikipedia Here


Photograph of William Butler Yeats taken in 1890
“The Isle of Innisfree is an uninhabited island within Lough Gill, in Co. Sligo, Ireland, where Yeats spent his summers as a child. Yeats describes the inspiration for the poem coming from a “sudden” memory of his childhood while walking down Fleet Street in London in 1888. He writes, “I had still the ambition, formed in Sligo in my teens, of living in imitation of Thoreau on Innisfree, a little island in Lough Gill, and when walking through Fleet Street very homesick I heard a little tinkle of water and saw a fountain in a shop-window which balanced a little ball upon its jet, and began to remember lake water. From the sudden remembrance came my poem “Innisfree,” my first lyric with anything in its rhythm of my own music. I had begun to loosen rhythm as an escape from rhetoric and from that emotion of the crowd that rhetoric brings, but I only understood vaguely and occasionally that I must for my special purpose use nothing but the common syntax. A couple of years later I could not have written that first line with its conventional archaism — “Arise and go”—nor the inversion of the last stanza.”[3]

“The twelve-line poem is divided into three quatrains and is an example of Yeats’s earlier lyric poems. Throughout the three short quatrains the poem explores the speaker’s longing for the peace and tranquility of Innisfree while residing in an urban setting. The speaker in this poem yearns to return to the island of Innisfree because of the peace and quiet it affords. He can escape the noise of the city and be lulled by the “lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore.” On this small island, he can return to nature by growing beans and having bee hives, by enjoying the “purple glow” of noon, the sounds of birds’ wings, and, of course, the bees. He can even build a cabin and stay on the island much as Thoreau, the American Transcendentalist, who lived in this manner on Walden Pond. During Yeats’s lifetime it was—to his annoyance—one of his most popular poems and on one occasion was recited (or sung) in his honor by two (or ten—accounts vary) thousand boy scouts.[4] The first quatrain speaks to the needs of the body (food & shelter); the second to the needs of the spirit (peace); the final quatrain is the meeting of the inner life (memory) with the physical world (pavement grey).

Musical settings
“A musical setting of this poem is featured in DUBLIN 1916, An Irish Oratorio and YEATS SONGS, a song cycle, both composed by Richard B. Evans. (published by Seacastle Music Company, 1995). Seattle, WA band Fleet Foxes mentions the Isles of Innisfree in many other songs including ‘The Shrine/An Argument’, ‘Isles’ and ‘Bedouin Dress’. American composer Ben Moore has also composed a setting of the poem. Another musical setting is featured in Branduardi canta Yeats (published by Edizioni Musicali Musiza, 1986), composed and played by Angelo Branduardi on translation of Luisa Zappa. Michael McGlynn of the Irish group Anúna arranged this as a choral piece: a “recording” of it is featured on Anúna’s album Invocation. Composer and pianist Ola Gjeilo set this text to music in a piece called “The Lake Isle.” Popular settings of the poem have been done by Judy Collins and the Dream Brothers. Australian musician Paul Kelly performs a version on his 2013 album “Conversations with Ghosts”. Shusha Guppy recorded an unaccompanied version on her album ‘This is the Day’ (United Artist Records, 1974).

In other media
In the finale episode of the fourth season of the Fox science-fiction drama television series Fringe entitled Brave New World (Part 2), Dr. William Bell (Leonard Nimoy) narrates the first stanza of the poem, alluding to his plans of collapsing the two universes into a new world where he plays God.


In the film Million Dollar Baby, directed by Clint Eastwood, Frankie Dunn (portrayed by Eastwood) reads the first two quatrains to Margaret Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) at the hospital after a fight where her neck has broken.

In the climactic scene from the film Three And Out, Tommy recites the poem just before he gets hit by the train.


In the song The Shrine/An Argument by Seattle indie folk band Fleet Foxes Innisfree is mentioned in the song’s final lyric: “Carry me to Innisfree like pollen on the breeze”. The band also mentions Innisfree in their song Bedouin Dress on the same album, saying frequently: “One day at Innisfree, one day that’s mine there” and “Just to be at Innisfree again”.


In his debut novel Ghostwritten the British author David Mitchell quotes the first two quatrains in the chapter “London” and the last in the chapter “Clear Island.”

© 2017 Jacki Kellum

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