Music can mean many things: from the carrier of creativity to the expression of anger, sadness, and other complex human emotions, the melody conveys special meanings to the listeners. To the narrator of the poem, music represents home, comfort, childhood memories, and a sense of pride and identity of the narrator. Using extensive literary devices like simile and metaphor that endow words in the poems with special meanings, just like how the narrator of the poem endows music with special meanings, Harper also employs the use of imagery and synesthesia to connect the auditory experience with emotional ones, and the poet establishes a reminiscently pensive and celebratory tone to eventually end the poem with the revelation that music entails something personal and unique to the narrator, something that speaks to her soul and family history.
To begin with, Harper uses figurative language and simile and metaphor to render music extremely powerful and associates music with the passing of time while celebrating its ability to preserve memories and family legacy despite the relentless elapsing of time. For instance, the poet uses simile and directly compares music as “brown eyes or a strong/left hook” and portrays melody as “inheritance” that is “displayed on an album cover” and “oral history taught/on a record player.” Using vivid language and positioning the seemingly static concept of music and melody under the broader landscape of a sense of antiquity and the passing of time, Harper connects music from the past to the realms of the present and even the future—something forever stored and cherished, whether as an art or a lesson. Comparing music to “the lessons/sealed into the grooves like fact,” Harper implies that music has evolved into an important matter-of-fact and routine to the narrator—as the “only myth” that the narrator of the poem knows. Using such techniques, Harper connects music with the familiar, the stored, and the relished, not only stressing the importance of music to the speaker but also establishing a strong presence of music in an abstract time frame.
Moreover, the poet paints vivid imagery and uses synesthesia to allow for the intertwining visual, auditory, and emotional experiences to shine through, again endowing sounds with profound meanings that speak to the speaker’s memories. Including an anecdote in “a damp November” and describing memories of the event in great details, Harper connects a happy experience with “rough-texture tones” and “the voice of a horn” to emphasize the lasting effects of sounds that once seem unimportant but are forever kept in the unconscious of the speaker, who only come to understand that “songs without lyrics/can still be sung” years later, when looking back to the event. Similarly, the speaker again uses sound to accompany the emotional experience of flashbacks and writes auditory elements such as “the sound of typing/your own accompaniment, multiphonics disguised as chords” and uses apostrophe by directly speaking to music, the now comforting existence amidst loneliness and home-sickness, to express the power of music to emotionally connect loved ones, “as a declaration of love” despite physical barriers.
Finally, the nostalgic, detached, and pensive tone of the poem support the final revelation of the poet that music shares a special place in their heart as a personal symbol of home, memories, and family. Writing that “the music will remain” and the “timeless notes of jazz/too personal to play out loud,” Harper not only invokes the same sense of eternity of music but also uses verbs like “stay locked” to express that music continues to possess deeply personal meanings. Writing that “memories fading/like the words of a lullaby, come to life in a saxophone’s blow,” Harper challenges the paradox of memories gone by portraying music as an eternal source of comfort and assurance, something both “delicate as breath” and strong enough to support someone’s spirits, emotions, and memories. From transitioning from describing past events and the significance of music to the eternity of music, Harper concludes the poem with an optimistic tone that again reveals the personal connections the speaker has to music.
In the poem, Harper constantly juxtaposes the universal idea of music with the personal experience of creating and listening to music and presents a paradox of the fading memories with the eternal storage of music. From using various literary techniques, imagery, and a pensive tone, the poet establishes music as a strong carrier of family memories and identities.