Zumwalt Poems Online

Response to Wednesday Poetry Challenge #5

Tell all the truth but tell it slant

By Emily Dickinson

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind—

— Emily Dickenson.

In 1977, I was looking for a poem to set to music for my Music Bachelor Degree composition recital.  This poem was perfect due to its layers of meaning (is it just guidance on how to create a poem — or more?) and the many opportunity for tone painting (emphasizing or representing the meaning of given words or phrases with appropriate notes, rhythms, musical effects or musical phrases.) 

I was enamoured by Messaien’s “Quartet for the End of Time” and mimicked his style to some degree but tried my best to underscore the message of the poem.  The amazing thing is that each line can be painted beautifully outside of the context of the poem — but one must balance that against achieving a unified musical message to support the text.

Well, the music is long lost and forgotten, but I still love this poem dearly.

— Zumwalt Site Administrator.


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