"The strains of the Aeolian harp and the woodthrush are the truest and loftiest preachers that I know left on this earth" (Henry Thoreau)
The Aeolian harp is named for the Greek God of the winds, Aeolus. It is an instrument constructed from strings stretched across an oblong box (between 18 and 30 inches long), with a central sound hole. Each string, although the same length, is of different thickness, and all are tuned to a single tone. The whole construction may then be covered with a wooden slat to act as a funnel for the wind. The instrument is then placed in a breezy spot, such as an opened window, and the whole instrument is then played, "plucked by the fingers of Aeolus". The scientific principle is clear - as the wind passes over the strings, it causes a harmonic vibration, the pitch and intensity of which varies with wind speed.
Popular in the 18th century, the Aeolian harp seems to be making a comeback. There are, for instance, large harps at the San Francisco Exploratorium and the International Center for Wild Animals at Zanesville, Ohio, and there are many craftspeople making them for sale.
The sound produced has a strange, eerie, ethereal quality, not unlike whale song, and has a calming effect similar to wind chimes. I have heard an album of music using the music of the harp as a basis for composition. You can hear an example of a harp at: http://www.harpmaker.net/windharp.htm.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The Æolian Harp
, written at Clevedon
August 20TH, 1795
My pensive SARA ! thy soft cheek reclined
Thus on mine arm, most soothing sweet it is
To sit beside our Cot, our Cot o'ergrown
With white-flower'd Jasmin, and the broad-leav'd Myrtle,
(Meet emblems they of Innocence and Love !)
And watch the clouds, that late were rich with light,
Slow saddenning round, and mark the star of eve
Serenely brilliant (such should Wisdom be)
Shine opposite ! How exquisite the scents
Snatch'd from yon bean-field ! and the world so hush'd !
The stilly murmur of the distant Sea
Tells us of silence.
And that simplest Lute,
Plac'd length-ways in the clasping casement, hark !
How by the desultory breeze caress'd,
Like some coy maid half-yielding to her lover,
It pours such sweet upbraiding, as must needs
Tempt to repeat the wrong ! And now, its strings
Boldlier swept, the long sequacious notes
Over delicious surges sink and rise,
Such a soft floating witchery of sound
As twilight Elfins make, when they at eve
Voyage on gentle gales from Faery-Land,
Where Melodies round honey-dropping flowers,
Footless and wild, like birds of Paradise,
Nor pause, nor perch, hovering on untam'd wing !
O ! the one Life within us and abroad,
Which meets all motion and becomes its soul,
A light in sound, a sound-like power in light,
Rhythm in all thought, and joyance every where--
Methinks, it should have been impossible
Not to love all things in a world so fill'd ;
Where the breeze warbles, and the mute still air
Is Music slumbering on her instrument.
And thus, my Love ! as on the midway slope
Of yonder hill I stretch my limbs at noon,
Whilst thro' my half-clos'd eye-lids I behold
The sunbeams dance, like diamonds, on the main,
And tranquil muse upon tranquility ;
Full many a thought uncall'd and undetain'd,
And many idle flitting phantasies,
Traverse my indolent and passive brain,
As wild and various, as the random gales
That swell and flutter on this subject Lute !
And what if all of animated nature
Be but organic Harps diversly fram'd,
That tremble into thought, as o'er them sweeps
Plastic and vast, one intellectual breeze,
At once the Soul of each, and God of all ?
But thy more serious eye a mild reproof
Darts, O belovéd Woman ! nor such thoughts
Dim and unhallow'd dost thou not reject,
And biddest me walk humbly with my God.
Meek Daughter in the Family of Christ !
Well hast thou said and holily disprais'd
These shapings of the unregenerate mind ;
Bubbles that glitter as they rise and break
On vain Philosophy's aye-babbling spring.
For never guiltless may I speak of him,
The Incomprehensible ! save when with awe
I praise him, and with Faith that inly feels ;
Who with his saving mercies healéd me,
A sinful and most miserable man,
Wilder'd and dark, and gave me to possess
Peace, and this Cot, and thee, heart-honour'd Maid !