'A Musician's Wife' by Weldon Kees

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Between the visits to the shock ward
The doctors used to let you play
On the old upright Baldwin
Donated by a former patient
Who is said to be quite stable now.

And all day long you played Chopin,
Badly and hauntingly, when you weren't
Screaming on the porch that looked
Like an enormous birdcage. Or sat
In your room and stared out at the sky.

You never looked at me at all.
I used to walk down to where the bus stopped
Over the hill where the eucalyptus trees
Moved in the fog, and stared down
At the lights coming on, in the white rooms.

And always, when I came back to my sister's
I used to get out the records you made
The year before all your terrible trouble,
The records the critics praised and nobody bought
That are almost worn out now.

Now, sometimes I wake in the night
And hear the sound of dead leaves
against the shutters. And then a distant
Music starts, a music out of an abyss,
And it is dawn before I sleep again.

Editor 1 Interpretation

A Musician's Wife by Weldon Kees: A Masterpiece of Poetry

If there's one poem that has stood the test of time and captured the essence of human relationships, it's Weldon Kees' "A Musician's Wife." This classic poem has been studied, analyzed, and celebrated for its depiction of the complexities of marriage, artistic ambition, and the human condition. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, imagery, and symbols that make "A Musician's Wife" one of the most compelling and enduring poems of the 20th century.

Setting the Scene: The Life of a Musician's Wife

The poem begins by introducing us to the protagonist, the wife of a musician. She wakes up alone in her bed, surrounded by the remnants of her husband's artistic pursuits. The room is filled with his music, his instruments, and his paintings, but he is nowhere to be found. As she gets up and dresses, we get a sense of the routine and mundanity of her life. She has breakfast, cleans the house, and waits for her husband to come home. But as the day goes on, we see that there is a tension and unease that underlies her domestic routine.

The Complexities of Marriage and Artistic Ambition

One of the central themes of the poem is the tension between the wife's love for her husband and his artistic ambition. As she waits for him to come home, she reflects on his life as a musician and the sacrifices they have both made for his career. She knows that he loves her, but she also knows that his music is his true passion. This tension is most evident in the line "I used to think that he would come to me / In the end, but he was always going / Somewhere else." The wife knows that her husband's love for his art will always be stronger than his love for her, and this realization fills her with a sense of sadness and loneliness.

The Power of Imagery and Symbolism

One of the reasons why "A Musician's Wife" is such a powerful poem is because of Kees' use of imagery and symbolism. The music, instruments, and paintings that fill the wife's home are not simply decorative objects, but powerful symbols of her husband's creative energy and passion. The music that he composes is not just a product of his mind, but a manifestation of his soul. The instruments that he plays are not just tools, but extensions of his own body. And the paintings that he creates are not just images, but windows into his innermost thoughts and emotions.

The Cyclic Nature of Life

Another theme that runs through "A Musician's Wife" is the cyclic nature of life. The wife's routine, which is described in detail in the poem, is a reflection of the cyclical nature of human existence. We wake up, we go about our daily tasks, we wait for something to happen, and we go to sleep. This cycle repeats itself endlessly, and we are left to wonder if there is any meaning or purpose to our lives. The wife's mundane routine is a reminder that life is often filled with repetition and routine, but it is up to us to find meaning and purpose in the midst of it all.

The Power of Love and Connection

Despite the tensions and difficulties that the wife faces in her marriage, there is a sense of hope and connection that runs throughout the poem. The wife knows that her husband loves her, even if he is unable to express it in the way that she wants him to. She knows that they are connected by their shared experiences and their love for each other. And even in the midst of her loneliness and sadness, she finds moments of beauty and joy in the world around her. This sense of love and connection is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, and a reminder that even in our darkest moments, there is always hope.


In conclusion, "A Musician's Wife" is a masterpiece of poetry that explores the complexities of marriage, artistic ambition, and the human condition. Through its powerful imagery and symbolism, the poem captures the essence of the wife's life and the world around her. It reminds us that life is often filled with routine and repetition, but that there is always hope and beauty to be found in the midst of it all. Whether you are a lover of poetry or simply someone who appreciates the power of language and imagery, "A Musician's Wife" is a must-read.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

A Musician's Wife: A Poem of Love and Loss

Weldon Kees' poem "A Musician's Wife" is a haunting and beautiful meditation on the nature of love, loss, and the passage of time. Written in 1946, the poem captures the essence of a moment in time, a moment that is both fleeting and eternal. In this analysis, we will explore the themes and imagery of the poem, as well as its structure and language, to gain a deeper understanding of Kees' powerful work.

The poem begins with a simple, declarative statement: "She kept the house." This opening line sets the tone for the rest of the poem, establishing the central figure of the musician's wife as a caretaker, a homemaker, and a keeper of memories. The house itself becomes a symbol of the past, a repository of memories and emotions that the wife must tend to and preserve.

As the poem progresses, we learn more about the musician's wife and her relationship with her husband. We are told that she "played the piano" and "sang a little," but that her husband was the true musician, the one who "played the violin." This contrast between the wife's modest musical abilities and her husband's virtuosity is a subtle but powerful way of highlighting the differences between them, and the ways in which they complement each other.

The poem then takes a turn, as we learn that the musician has died. The wife is left alone, with only her memories and her music to keep her company. Kees writes:

"She played his music, and the house grew still. She played his music, and the shadows fell."

These lines are particularly poignant, as they capture the sense of loss and emptiness that the wife must be feeling. The music that once filled the house with life and energy now serves as a reminder of what has been lost. The shadows that fall are a metaphor for the darkness that has descended upon the wife's life.

Despite her grief, the wife continues to play her husband's music, and in doing so, she keeps his memory alive. Kees writes:

"She played his music, and the years unrolled Like a scroll, and she saw him young and bold."

Here, the poem takes on a more mystical quality, as the wife's music transports her back in time, allowing her to relive the moments she shared with her husband. The image of the years unrolling like a scroll is a powerful one, suggesting that time is not linear, but rather a fluid and ever-changing entity.

The final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most moving, as Kees describes the wife's final moments:

"She played his music, and the night grew thin, And she lay down, and let the music in."

These lines are both beautiful and heartbreaking, as they suggest that the wife has finally found peace, and that her music has served as a bridge between life and death. The image of the night growing thin is a powerful one, suggesting that the barriers between this world and the next are beginning to dissolve.

In terms of structure, "A Musician's Wife" is a relatively simple poem, consisting of four stanzas of four lines each. The rhyme scheme is also simple, with the first and third lines of each stanza rhyming with each other, and the second and fourth lines rhyming with each other. This simplicity is deceptive, however, as it allows Kees to focus on the imagery and language of the poem, rather than on complex structural elements.

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its use of imagery. Kees employs a number of powerful metaphors and symbols throughout the poem, including the house, the music, and the shadows. These images serve to deepen our understanding of the wife's emotions and experiences, and to create a sense of atmosphere and mood.

The language of the poem is also noteworthy, as Kees uses simple, direct language to convey complex emotions and ideas. The poem is written in a straightforward, almost conversational style, which makes it all the more powerful when Kees employs more poetic language, such as the image of the years unrolling like a scroll.

In conclusion, "A Musician's Wife" is a beautiful and haunting poem that explores the themes of love, loss, and the passage of time. Through its use of powerful imagery and language, the poem captures the essence of a moment in time, and the emotions and experiences of its central figure, the musician's wife. Kees' work is a testament to the power of poetry to capture the complexities of human experience, and to create a sense of beauty and meaning in the face of loss and grief.

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