CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST OF THIS PROGRAM
By Ella Higginson
The soft-toned clock upon the stair chimed three—
Too sweet for sleep, too early yet to rise.
In restful peace I lay with half-closed eyes,
Watching the tender hours go dreamily;
The tide was flowing in; I heard the sea
Shivering along the sands; while yet the skies
Were dim, uncertain, as the light that lies
Beneath the fretwork of some wild-rose tree
Within the thicket gray. The chanticleer
Sent drowsy calls across the slumbrous air;
In solemn silence sweet it was to hear
My own heart beat . . . Then broad and deep and fair—
Trembling in its new birth from heaven’s womb—
One crimson shaft of dawn sank thro’ my room.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Dawn on the Moskva River by Modest Mussorgsky
By Billy Collins
Why do we bother with the rest of the day,
the swale of the afternoon,
the sudden dip into evening,
then night with his notorious perfumes,
his many-pointed stars?
This is the best—
throwing off the light covers,
feet on the cold floor,
and buzzing around the house on espresso—
maybe a splash of water on the face,
a palmful of vitamins—
but mostly buzzing around the house on espresso,
dictionary and atlas open on the rug,
the typewriter waiting for the key of the head,
a cello on the radio,
and, if necessary, the windows—
trees fifty, a hundred years old
heavy clouds on the way
and the lawn steaming like a horse
in the early morning.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Morning Song by Arnold Bax
A Musical Instrument
By Elizabeth Barrett Browning
WHAT was he doing, the great god Pan,
Down in the reeds by the river ?
Spreading ruin and scattering ban,
Splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat,
And breaking the golden lilies afloat
With the dragon-fly on the river.
He tore out a reed, the great god Pan,
From the deep cool bed of the river :
The limpid water turbidly ran,
And the broken lilies a-dying lay,
And the dragon-fly had fled away,
Ere he brought it out of the river.
High on the shore sate the great god Pan,
While turbidly flowed the river ;
And hacked and hewed as a great god can,
With his hard bleak steel at the patient reed,
Till there was not a sign of a leaf indeed
To prove it fresh from the river.
He cut it short, did the great god Pan,
(How tall it stood in the river !)
Then drew the pith, like the heart of a man,
Steadily from the outside ring,
And notched the poor dry empty thing
In holes, as he sate by the river.
This is the way,' laughed the great god Pan,
Laughed while he sate by the river,)
The only way, since gods began
To make sweet music, they could succeed.'
Then, dropping his mouth to a hole in the reed,
He blew in power by the river.
Sweet, sweet, sweet, O Pan !
Piercing sweet by the river !
Blinding sweet, O great god Pan !
The sun on the hill forgot to die,
And the lilies revived, and the dragon-fly
Came back to dream on the river.
Yet half a beast is the great god Pan,
To laugh as he sits by the river,
Making a poet out of a man :
The true gods sigh for the cost and pain, —
For the reed which grows nevermore again
As a reed with the reeds in the river.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Prelude to Afternoon of a Fawn by Claude Debussy
Bryant Park at Dusk
By Geoffrey Brock
Floodlights have flared on behind and above
Where I sit in my public chair.
The lawn that had gradually darkened has brightened.
The library windows stare.
I’m alone in a crowd—e pluribus plures.
Far from a family I miss.
I’d almost say I’m lonely, but lonely
Is worse, I recall, than this.
Loneliness is a genuine poverty.
I’m like a man who is flush
But forgot his wallet on the nightstand
When he left for work in a rush,
And now must go without food and coffee
For a few hours more than he’d wish.
That’s all. He still has a wallet. It’s bulging.
It floats through his brain like a fish...
Money for love: a terrible simile,
But maybe it’s fitting here,
A couple of blocks from Madison Avenue
Where commodities are dear,
Where all around me, rich skyscrapers
Woo the impoverished sky,
Having sent on their way the spent commuters
Who stream, uncertain, by—
And as for this whole splurge of a city,
Isn’t money at its heart?
But I’m blathering now. Forgetting my subject.
What I meant to say at the start
Is that I noticed a woman reading
In a chair not far from mine.
Silver-haired, calm, she stirred a hunger
Hard for me to define,
Perhaps because she doesn’t seem lonely.
And what I loved was this:
The way, when dusk had darkened her pages,
As if expecting a kiss,
She closed her eyes and threw her head back,
Book open on her lap.
Perhaps she was thinking about her story,
Or the fall air, or a nap.
I thought she’d leave me then for pastimes
More suited to the dark.
But she is on intimate terms, it seems,
With the rhythms of Bryant Park,
For that’s when the floodlights came on, slowly,
Somewhere far above my need,
And the grass grew green again, and the woman
Reopened her eyes to read.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: At Dusk by Arthur Foote
By Lisel Mueller
Johannes Brahms and
The modern biographers worry
“how far it went,” their tender friendship.
They wonder just what it means
when he writes he thinks of her constantly,
his guardian angel, beloved friend.
The modern biographers ask
the rude, irrelevant question
of our age, as if the event
of two bodies meshing together
establishes the degree of love,
forgetting how softly Eros walked
in the nineteenth-century, how a hand
held overlong or a gaze anchored
in someone’s eyes could unseat a heart,
and nuances of address not known
in our egalitarian language
could make the redolent air
tremble and shimmer with the heat
of possibility. Each time I hear
the Intermezzi, sad
and lavish in their tenderness,
I imagine the two of them
sitting in a garden
among late-blooming roses
and dark cascades of leaves,
letting the landscape speak for them,
leaving us nothing to overhear.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Piano Concerto No. 1 (2nd movement) by Johannes Brahms