“Perplexed Music” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Experience, like a pale musician, holds

A dulcimer of patience in his hand,

Whence harmonies, we cannot understand

Of God’s will in his worlds, the strain unfolds

In sad-perplexed minors: deathly colds

Fall on us while we hear, and countermand

Our sanguine heart back from the fancyland

With nightingale in visionary wolds.

We murmer ‘Where is any certain tune

Or measured music in such notes as these?’

But angels, leaning from the golden seat,

Are not so minded; their fine ear hath won

The issue of completed cadences,

And, smiling down the stars, they whisper – SWEET

~ “Perplexed Music” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

I absolutely love this poem by E.B. Browning. I had written it down in one of my journals and have only just rediscovered it. I find it comforting, especially when the times are filled with trials.

“Experience, like a pale musician, holds a dulcimer of patience in his hand…”

First of all, being a musician, this metaphor of music really resonates with me. I think people in general are drawn to music; it is the universal language, after all. E.B.B.’s use of this metaphor combines the universal language with the universal fact of suffering. Everyone experiences trials and tribulations and tough times. How often does the running of our lives look a bit dismal, as if a little bit of death is tainting the life?

“…whence harmonies, we cannot understand of God’s will in his worlds, the strain unfolds in sad-perplexed minors…”

Our lives are suffused with minor harmonies. Sadness touches us all, and often we strive fruitlessly for the reasons for our suffering. God’s will is a mystery to us.

“…deathly colds fall on us while we hear, and countermand our sanguine heart from the fancyland with nightingale in visionary wolds.”

Despite our attempts at escapism, despite our daydreams and imaginings, cold hard reality hits us like ice water, bringing us back to the imperfections of our lives.

“We murmur ‘Where is any certain tune or measured music in such notes as these?'”

The meaning of our lives is hard to realize when the will of God seems hazy and unreachable. We don’t know why certain things happen to us at the moment of their happening. Why is there death? Why separation? Why must me wait? What of tomorrow?

“But angels, leaning from the golden seat, are not so minded; their fine ear hath won the issue of completed cadences, and, smiling down the stars, they whisper – SWEET.”

Just because we cannot understand life at times, does not mean that it is meaningless. Though we are blind, we can know that there is still such a thing as sunshine. From our human perspective, the world is crashing about our ears. But from the perspective of the angels, God is recreating us, making us into the kind of people He wants us to be. And when we reach that perfect state, we too will hear the sweet, sweet music in all its completion.

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1 Comment

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One response to ““Perplexed Music” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

  1. Mmm… what restful encouragement. Some of your words especially hit home for me, as I am going through a similar fog of sad-perplexed minors. I do remember you sharing this poem with me once before. Thank you for bringing it to light again! Have I ever told you– I love your writing? If I haven’t, I do.

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