Blest Pair of Sirens: Some Thoughts on Literature and Music

Scope and Content

In spring 1980, at the University of Kent, Burgess delivered the T. S. Eliot Memorial Lectures, drawing his title and theme from the opening of John Milton's At a Solemn Music: "Blest pair of Sirens, pledges of Heaven's joy / Sphere-born harmonious sisters, Voice and Verse". In four lectures titled "Blest Pair of Sirens: Thoughts on Music and Literature", delivered 28 April - 1 May, Burgess examined Eliot's incorporation of popular song into his verse, musical aspects of Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ's poetry, James Joyce's writing, and the novel in general. An edited version of the lectures was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 between 29 September 1980 and 20 October 1980. A transcript of the lectures (as broadcast) is available at AB/ARCH/A/LEC/3. Later that year, Burgess delivered a series of lectures in America in which he included many of the same musical examples.

In 1982, Burgess adapted his T.S. Eliot Memorial Lectures for publication, ultimately under the title This Man and Music. In the book Burgess looks at the role of music in his life and examines the close and mutually enriching relationship between literature and music. He describes the process of writing his Symphony Number 3 in C, discusses the relationship between music and life, the language of music, and music in literature - particularly in the work of Hopkins and Joyce. He also analyses two of his own novels with a musical motif, namely MF and Napoleon Symphony, and includes a "Biographia Musicalis", an inventory of his own works.

This series contains a draft of Blest Pair of Sirens (adapted by Burgess from his lecture-series of the same name) and an incomplete draft of This Man and Music.

Source: "A Clockwork Counterpoint: the Music and Literature of Anthony Burgess" by Paul Phillips (Manchester University Press, 2010)