Listening Poem by Amy Lowell Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


“Listening” is a lyrical sonnet by Amy Lowell that delves into the idea of spiritual love and the spirit’s harmony that is incredibly similar to the harmony of nature.  The title “Listening” suggests that the poetess is listening to the symphony of the individual’s soul and it is as beautiful and calming as that of nature. 

About the Poet 

Amy Lawrence Lowell is an American poet. Lowell explored and idealised the imagist style of poetry and pioneered polyphonic proses, that is a blend of free forms and formal verse. 


“Listening” is a sonnet that comprises fourteen lines. The sonnet is composed in iambic pentameter. The sonnet resembles the Petrarchan sonnet form. 

Summary and Analysis 

Lines 1-5 

’T is you that are the music, not your song.

  The song is but a door which, opening wide,

  Lets forth the pent-up melody inside,

Your spirit’s harmony, which clear and strong

Sing but of you. Throughout your whole life long


The musician is the music, not his song. The song is just a door that shows the music its way to reach the rest of the world. The melody is in their soul, their spirit is harmony which is clear and strong that sings the song of the musician for life long. 


The poem begins as the speaker of the poem addresses a person who is associated with music. The speaker says that the person themselves is the music. Although this person composes music, the real music is within them. The notes or the tune that he creates is merely a door that allows the music that resides inside him, to barge through this door to please the rest of the world. 

The melody is inside the person and its pent-up. Therefore the person needs a way to set it free and he does so through his music. His soul and spirit is so clear and strong that it represents harmony. And harmony rests within his soul which is what makes his spirit so clear and strong. 

In the last line of this stanza, the speaker claims that it is not the person that is singing, it is his soul and his spirit that sing for him. Therefore, he must continue to practise music throughout his life. 

Lines 6- 8

Your songs, your thoughts, your doings, each divide

  This perfect beauty; waves within a tide,

Or single notes amid a glorious throng.


The musical soul influences everything the musician does, the songs, the thoughts, the doings, each of which shows the perfect beauty of the musician. Like waves within a tide, or like single notes in the glorious crowd. 


Here, the speaker says that the songs, thoughts, and doings of this person is what makes him/her so perfectly beautiful. The beauty floods out from his soul and can be seen through the person’s behaviour and mannerisms. 

The perfect beauty, that contrives of all those things are compared to the waves within a tide. There are several waves in a tide but all are in harmony. The speaker also compares it to single notes that refer to musical notes. These comparisons suggest individuality of all his actions and how they are all under influence of his musical soul. 

“Amid a glorious throng” also refers to how music makes him stand out from the rest of the world. 

Lines 9-11

The song of earth has many different chords;

Ocean has many moods and many tones

  Yet always ocean. In the damp Spring woods


Music is everywhere in the world and everything has its own tune. The earth has its own different chords, the ocean has its moods and tones, so does the damp spring woods. 


In these lines, the speaker of the poem describes how music is all around the world, everywhere. The earth itself has many different chords. The Ocean has many moods and tones, yet they are all in harmony. 

The Ocean is similar to the person’s soul. And despite the differences, the world sings the same tone, that is the tone of love. 

Lines 12-14

The painted trillium smiles, while crisp pine cones

  Autumn alone can ripen. So is this

  One music with a thousand cadences.


The damp woods, the painted trilliums, they smile while the crisp pine cones ripen in Autumn. All of these things have their own melody yet they all are in harmony. One music with a thousand rhythms.  


In these lines of the poem, the speaker describes the damp Spring Woods and the painted trillium that smiles. Trillium are three-petaled flowers. The speaker mentions these two aspects of nature for imagery. 

The crisp pine cones are also mentioned by the speaker. These pine cones can only ripen in Autumn alone. These also have their own tone, mood, and notes but yet it all sings one music. 

The earth, the ocean, the damp spring woods, the painted trillium and the crisp pine cones, represent nature and the wide world that sings only one music, only one song with a thousand rhythms within itself.