Saturday, May 14, 2016

Poetry about Music and Musicians

Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Return to Vienna
Rita Dove, 1952
Oh you men who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn,
or misanthropic, how greatly do you wrong me....
               The Heiligenstadt Testament

Three miles from my adopted city
lies a village where I came to peace.
The world there was a calm place,
even the great Danube no more
than a pale ribbon tossed onto the landscape
by a girl’s careless hand.  Into this stillness

I had been ordered to recover. 
The hills were gold with late summer;
my rooms were two, plus a small kitchen,
situated upstairs in the back of a cottage
at the end of the Herrengasse
From my window I could see onto the courtyard
where a linden tree twined skyward —
leafy umbilicus canted toward light,
warped in the very act of yearning —
and I would feed on the sun as if that alone
would dismantle the silence around me.

At first I raged.  Then music raged in me,               
rising so swiftly I could not write quickly enough
to ease the roiling.  I would stop
to light a lamp, and whatever I’d missed —
larks flying to nest, church bells, the shepherd’s
home-toward-evening song — rushed in, and I
would rage again. 

I am by nature a conflagration;
I would rather leap
than sit and be looked at.
So when my proud city spread 
her gypsy skirts, I reentered, 
burning towards her greater, constant light.
Call me rough, ill-tempered, slovenly— I tell you,
every tenderness I have ever known
has been nothing
but thwarted violence, an ache
so permanent and deep, the lightest touch
awakens it. . . . It is impossible

to care enough.  I have returned
with a second Symphony
and 15 Piano Variations
which I’ve named Prometheus,
after the rogue Titan, the half-a-god
who knew the worst sin is to take
what cannot be given back.

I smile and bow, and the world is loud. 
And though I dare not lean in to shout
Can’t you see that I’m deaf?
I also cannot stop listening.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: "Eroica" Variations by L.van Beethoven

Interlude: Still Still

Robin Behn

Inside the hole, where it’s yellow, 
the boy has dropped a quarter 
so that the guitar rattles
when he shakes it by the neck. 
Knocks, scrapes, scars. 
So this is what music is.
The wooden body is no longer 
bigger than his body. 
The strings, which, when
he strums them, 
go on forever are forever 
wound around small pegs
shaped like the big ones 
they wrap the ropes around, 
there being an absence of
able-bodied mourners 
to lower, with the softer machines 
of their bodies, the coffin down.
It was a cold day.
The boy had not been born yet, 
but stood among us
warm in his round place. 
Then, from the distance,
the bagpiper who’d been found
in the yellow pages 
extracted the horizon note 
like a red needle from the sky.
And so it was not with nothing 
human our friend was lowered. 
This is what music is.
But how did it sound to the boy, 
the bladder of cries squeezed 
through the slit throat
when there had not been anything 
yet to cry about?
The solace of music is
not that we recognize it. 
It is that the hearing 
comes from before and is wound
around after. Between, 
our bad singing a stranger 
dozed, then bulldozed to.
At home, in its case, the guitar 
was hunkered inside the dark 
into which music goes,
and the more particular dark 
from which music comes 
was inside of it.
The sound hole swallowed and passed back 
buckets of silence
until the inner and outer dark
had the same yellow smell. 
This, while the song the boy 
would pay for waited, still still.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Cradle Song by Sergio Assad

That Music Always Round Me

Walt Whitman, 1819 - 1892

That music always round me, unceasing, unbeginning, yet long
      untaught I did not hear,
But now the chorus I hear and am elated,
A tenor, strong, ascending with power and health, with glad notes
      of daybreak I hear,
A soprano at intervals sailing buoyantly over the tops of immense
A transparent base shuddering lusciously under and through the
The triumphant tutti, the funeral wailings with sweet flutes and
      violins, all of these I fill myself with,
I hear not the volumes of sound merely, I am moved by the
      exquisite meanings,
I listen to the different voices winding in and out, striving,
      contending with fiery vehemence to excel each other in
I do not think the performers know themselves—but now I think I
      begin to know them.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: The Heavens are Telling by J. Haydn

A Violin at Dusk

Lizette Woodworth Reese

Stumble to silence, all you uneasy things, 
That pack the day with bluster and with fret.
For here is music at each window set;
Here is a cup which drips with all the springs
That ever bud a cowslip flower; a roof
To shelter till the argent weathers break;
A candle with enough of light to make
My courage bright against each dark reproof. 
A hand’s width of clear gold, unraveled out
The rosy sky, the little moon appears;
As they were splashed upon the paling red,
Vast, blurred, the village poplars lift about. 
I think of young, lost things: of lilacs; tears;
I think of an old neighbor, long since dead. 

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Passacaglia in G Minor by Heinrich Biber

The Day Duke Raised: May 24th, 1974

Quincy Troupe, 1939

For Duke Ellington
that day began with a shower
of darkness, calling lightning rains
home to stone language
of thunderclaps, shattering, the high
blue, elegance, of space & time
where a broken-down, riderless, horse
with frayed wings
rode a sheer bone, sunbeam
road, down into the clouds
spoke wheels of lightning jagged
around the hours, & spun high up
above those clouds, duke wheeled
his chariot of piano keys
his spirit, now, levitated from flesh
& hovering over the music of most high
spoke to the silence
of a griot-shaman-man
who knew the wisdom of God
at high noon, the sun cracked
through the darkness, like a rifle shot
grew a beard of clouds on its livid, bald
face, hung down, noon, sky high
pivotal time of the flood-deep hours
as duke was pivotal, being a five in the nine
numbers of numerology
as his music was one of the crossroads
a cosmic mirror of rhythmic gri-gri
so get on up & fly away duke, bebop
slant & fade on in, strut, dance swing, riff
& float & stroke those tickling, gri-gri keys
those satin ladies taking the A train  up
to harlem, those gri-gri keys 
of birmingham, breakdown
sophisticated ladies, mood indigo
get on up & strut across, gri-gri
raise on up, your band’s waiting
thunderclapping music, somersaulting
clouds, racing across the deep, blue wisdom
of God, listen, it is time for your intro, duke
into that other place, where the all-time great
band is waiting for your intro, duke
it is time for the Sacred Concert, duke
it is time to make the music of God, duke
we are listening for your intro, duke
so let the sacred music, begin

 RELFECTIVE MUSIC: Blues To Be There by Duke Ellington

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