Saturday, November 24, 2012

Poems about Music: Playlist for November 23, 2012

 “I Broke the Spell That Held Me Long”

By William Cullen Bryant 1794–1878

I broke the spell that held me long,

The dear, dear witchery of song.

I said, the poet’s idle lore

Shall waste my prime of years no more,

For Poetry, though heavenly born,

Consorts with poverty and scorn.


I broke the spell–nor deemed its power

Could fetter me another hour.

Ah, thoughtless! how could I forget

Its causes were around me yet?

For wheresoe’er I looked, the while,

Was Nature’s everlasting smile. 


Still came and lingered on my sight

Of flowers and streams the bloom and light,

And glory of the stars and sun; –

And these and poetry are one.

They, ere the world had held me long,

Recalled me to the love of song.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Clair de lune, by Gabriel Faure


Place and Time

By Lisel Mueller b. 1924

History is your own heartbeat.                

                   —Michael Harper 


Last night a man on the radio,

a still young man, said the business district

of his hometown had been plowed under.

The town was in North Dakota.

Grass, where the red-and-gold          

Woolworth sign used to be,

where the revolving doors

took him inside Sears;

gone the sweaty seats

of the Roxy—or was it the Princess—

of countless Friday nights

that whipped his heart to a gallop

when a girl touched him, as the gun

on the screen flashed in the moonlight.

Grass, that egalitarian green,

pulling its sheet over rubble,

over his barely cold childhood,

on which he walks as others walk

over a buried Mayan temple

or a Roman aqueduct beneath

a remote sheep pasture

in the British Isles. Yet his voice,

the modest voice on the radio,

was almost apologetic,

as if to say, what’s one small town,

even if it is one’s own,

in an age of mass destruction,

and never mind the streets and stones

of a grown man’s childhood—

as if to say, the lives we live

before the present moment

are graves we walk away from.


Except we don’t. We’re all

pillars of salt. My life began

with Beethoven and Schubert

on my mother’s grand piano,

the shiny Bechstein on which she played

the famous symphonies

in piano reductions. But they were no

reductions for me, the child

who now remembers nothing

earlier than that music,

a weather I was born into,

a jubilant light or dusky sadness

struck up by my mother’s hands.

Where does music come from

and where does it go when it’s over—

the child’s unanswered question

about more than music.


My mother is dead, and the piano

she could not take with her into exile

burned with our city in World War II.

That is the half-truth. The other half

is that it’s still her black Bechstein

each concert pianist plays for me

and that her self-taught fingers

are behind each virtuoso performance

on the stereo, giving me back

my prewar childhood city

intact and real. I don’t know

if the man from North Dakota has

some music that brings back

his town to him, but something does,

and whatever he remembers

is durable and instantly

retrievable and lit

by a sky or streetlight

which does not change. That must be why

he sounded casual about

the mindless wreckage, clumsy

as an empty threat.

 REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Moment Musicale in A-flat by Franz Schubert

Thou Art My Lute

By Paul Laurence Dunbar 1872–1906

Thou art my lute, by thee I sing,—

     My being is attuned to thee.

Thou settest all my words a-wing,

     And meltest me to melody.


Thou art my life, by thee I live,

     From thee proceed the joys I know;

Sweetheart, thy hand has power to give

     The meed of love—the cup of woe.


Thou art my love, by thee I lead

     My soul the paths of light along,

From vale to vale, from mead to mead,

     And home it in the hills of song.


My song, my soul, my life, my all,

     Why need I pray or make my plea,

Since my petition cannot fall;

     For I’m already one with thee!

 REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Galliards for Lute by John Dowland


Song from a Reedless Flute

By Sara Littlecrow-Russell b. 1969 

You are beadwork woven by a broken Indian woman

That I mend with cautious, needle-pricked fingers.

You are raw sweetness of burning chaga

Scraping my lungs and startling tears.

You are the bear claw necklace

No longer caressing

The space between my breasts.

You are cigarettes

That I quit years ago,

But sometimes smoke anyways.


You are maple syrup on snow

Melting on my tongue

Until I ache from the cold.

You are the cedar tree

Sheltering my childhood

From unwanted caresses.

You are the star blanket

Sliding off the bed on autumnal nights.

You are a stubborn braid of wiingashk

That must be relit with a dozen matches

Before it releases thin streamers of sweetness.

You are the love song

Played on a reedless flute

That only spirits hear.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Native American Flute music performed by Robert Tree Cody


A Man in Blue

By James Schuyler 1923–1991

Under the French horns of a November afternoon

a man in blue is raking leaves

with a wide wooden rake (whose teeth are pegs

or rather, dowels). Next door

boys play soccer: “You got to start

over!” sort of. A round attic window

in a radiant gray house waits like a kettledrum.

“You got to start . . .” The Brahmsian day

lapses from waltz to march. The grass,

rough-cropped as Bruno Walter’s hair,

is stretched, strewn and humped beneath a sycamore

wide and high as an idea of heaven

in which Brahms turns his face like a bearded thumb

and says, “There is something I must tell you!”

to Bruno Walter. “In the first movement

of my Second, think of it as a family

planning where to go next summer

in terms of other summers. A material ecstasy,

subdued, recollective.” Bruno Walter

in a funny jacket with a turned-up collar

says, “Let me sing it for you.”

He waves his hands and through the vocalese-shaped spaces

of naked elms he draws a copper beech

ignited with a few late leaves. He bluely glazes

a rhododendron “a sea of leaves” against gold grass.

There is a snapping from the brightwork

of parked and rolling cars.

There almost has to be a heaven! so there could be

a place for Bruno Walter

who never needed the cry of a baton.


in a small, dusty, rather gritty, somewhat scratchy

Magnavox from which a forte

drops like a used Brillo Pad?

Frayed. But it’s hard to think of the sky as a thick glass floor

with thick-soled Viennese boots tromping about on it.

It’s a whole lot harder thinking of Brahms

in something soft, white, and flowing.

“Life,” he cries (here, in the last movement),

“is something more than beer and skittles!”

“And the something more

is a whole lot better than beer and skittles,”

says Bruno Walter,

darkly, under the sod. I don’t suppose it seems so dark

to a root. Who are these men in evening coats?

What are these thumps?

Where is Brahms?

And Bruno Walter?

Ensconced in resonant plump easy chairs

covered with scuffed brown leather

in a pungent autumn that blends leaf smoke

(sycamore, tobacco, other),

their nobility wound in a finale

like this calico cat

asleep, curled up in a breadbasket,

on a sideboard where the sun falls.

 REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 73 (1st movement) by Johannes Brahms


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