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A Lost Chord -- Adelaide Procter

(Poem #520) A Lost Chord
 Seated one day at the Organ,
   I was weary and ill at ease,
 And my fingers wandered idly
   Over the noisy keys.

 I do not know what I was playing,
   Or what I was dreaming then;
 But I struck one chord of music,
   Like the sound of a great Amen.

 It flooded the crimson twilight,
   Like the close of an Angel's Psalm,
 And it lay on my fevered spirit
   With a touch of infinite calm.

 It quieted pain and sorrow,
   Like love overcoming strife;
 It seemed the harmonious echo
   From our discordant life.

 It linked all perplexéd meanings
   Into one perfect peace,
 And trembled away into silence
   As if it were loth to cease.

 I have sought, but I seek it vainly,
   That one lost chord divine,
 Which came from the soul of the Organ,
   And entered into mine.

 It may be that Death's bright angel
   Will speak in that chord again,
 It may be that only in Heaven
   I shall hear that grand Amen.
-- Adelaide Procter
Today's poem is built around a haunting and wonderfully compelling image.
Nicely developed, too - the poem mirrors both the "attack, decay, sustain,
release" envelope of an organ note and its deeply resonant sound.

The theme itself is an old one - of something precious and magical, that may
only be discovered by chance ('and never twice' is a reasonably common
addition). Likewise, music has been attributed mystical powers for
practically as long as it has existed. Nevertheless, Procter has managed to
take these timeworn elements and merge them in a poem that is both good and
original - and a poem that, if not 'great' is certainly immortal.


Two biographies can be found at

Quoting from the former:
  Her works were very popular; they were published in America and also
  translated into German. In 1877 her poems were in greater demand in
  England than those of any living writer except Tennyson. If her verses are
  unambitious, dealing with simple emotional themes, they have the merit of
  originality and give evidence of much culture. She appears perhaps to
  greatest advantage in her narrative poems, several of which, such as "The
  Angel's Story", "A Legend of Bregenz", "The Story of the Faithful Soul",
  and "A Legend of Provence", are well known in anthologies; but some of her
  lyrics, like "Cleansing Fires" and "A Lost Chord", have made a very wide
  appeal. Some of her poems, for example, "Per Pacem ad Lucem" and
  "Thankfulness" are so devotional that they are in use as hymns.


This poem reminds me of a surprising number of sf/fantasy stories,
particularly Hilton's 'Lost Horizon' (which introduced the Shangri-La
legend) and Clarke's 'The Ultimate Melody'.


29 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Martin DeMello said...

Also spracht amitc...
> Martin says:
> >Today's poem is built around a haunting and wonderfully compelling image.
> I'm sorry to say that I found this image anything but compelling. A
> discrete object like a chord of music "quieted pain and sorrow" and
> "linked all perplexed meanings"? Please!

The image I was referring to was that of the one perfect chord 'hidden' in
the organ, and discoverable only by chance.

> And the flippant nursery rhyme-ish rhythm of the poem does nothing good
> either, as far as I'm concerned.

I didn't find it flippant, personally, and it's far from nursery rhymeish -
it's a fairly common metre, in fact.

> Martin goes on to say:
> >Nicely developed, too - the poem mirrors both the "attack, decay, sustain,
> >release" envelope of an organ note and its deeply resonant sound.
> I say "huh"?

An organ note is roughly divided into four phases, attack, decay, sustain
and release - the volume-time graph looks roughly like this:
/ \

The structure of the poem mirrors this, with the note swelling into
existence, quietening slightly, sustaining, and then letting go.

As for the resonance - that could be reaching slightly, but it did seem as
if the preponderance of rhyming words ending in m and n was intended to
create a sonorous effect.


Julian Tepper said...

The poem (like Kipling's (c. 1890) Mandalay) became the lyrics of a song, one
that is simple, yet beautiful and somewhat forceful. I hope you all have had the
pleasure of hearing it. Did you know that it was composed by Sir Arthur
Sullivan, influenced by death of his brother in the late 1870s? (Sir Arthur also
wrote some other songs in collaboration with a man named Gilbert, most of which
were first performed in London's famed Savoy Theatre.)

I am particularly gratified to see this poem here because it reminds me of one
of the earliest tunes my mother taught to me. If alive today, she would be in
her 86th year (she was 47 when she died). I regard anything that induces a pause
in which I reminisce about my mom is most lovely and treasured. Thank you.


AlmonPet said...

Adelaide Proctor's 'Lost Chord' sounded, so she tells us, like a 'Grand

What shame that an 'Amen' almost always uses two chords......traditionally
the chordal sequence the plagal cadance!!

Personally, I have always liked Sullivan's setting of this poem although to
many people it represents the epitome of Victorian musical sentimentality and
dismissed as worthless because of it. However, there can be no denying
Sullivan's genius in transforming this essentially nonsensical poem into a moving
and beautiful miniature.

Sullivan wrote some truly exquisite part songs. It's a tragedy that this
supremely talented and professional English musician is still not given the
respct and recognition that ought to be his. Fortunately, there currently seems
to be a renaissance of interest in his music. If you like 'The Lost Chord'
do listen to more of Sullivan's music - you won't be disappointed!!!

Frank Brownlow said...

People make fun of the poem and of Sullivan's setting, but now we've all
got over modernist snobbery in these matters it's time to acknowledge
that the song, at least, is a masterpiece, as all the great singers have
known since it first appeared. There are fine recordings by McCormack
and Gigli.


Irene Smith said...

It has been said that Sullivan would have been as great as or equal to Brahms, had he not diverted his career into Musical Comedy.
This composition has meant and means a great deal to many people both emotionally and religiously, and has enriched many lives.

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