Apr '03 [Home]

Masters:  Music

A The Old Orange Flute ~ Anonymous | The Composer ~ Wystan Hugh Auden | I Am in Need of Music ~ Elizabeth Bishop | Blue Evening ~ Rupert Brooke | Perplexed Music ~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning | Pied Piper of Hamelin ~ Robert Browning | Listening ~ Music ~ Raymond Carver | Æollian Harp ~ Samuel Coleridge | Music in an Empty House ~ Hugh Sykes Davies | 157 ~ Emily Dickinson | Alexander's Feast ~ John Dryden | Come In ~ Robert Frost | Leporello on Don Giovanni ~ Jack Gilbert | To Music: a Song ~ Robert Herrick | To Autumn ~ John Keats | At a Solemn Music ~ John Milton

St. Cecilia (1895), John William Waterhouse (1849 - 1917)

Or in a clear-wall'd city on the sea, / Near gilded organ-pipes, her hair / Wound with white roses, slept Saint Cecily; / An angel look'd at her. (Tennyson, "The Palace of Art" 1842)

The Barrel-Organ ~ Alfred Noyes | I Know the Music ~ Music ~ Wilfred Owen | Ancient Music ~ Ezra Pound | To Music ~ Rainer Maria Rilke | Cuttings ~ Theodore Roethke | The March of the Dead ~ Robert W. Service | Music Swims Back to Me ~ Anne Sexton | Peter Quince at the Clavier ~ Mozart, 1935 ~ Wallace Stevens | My Lute Awake ~ Sir Thomas Wyatt
. . .
The Old Orange Flute
18th c. Irish traditional

In the County Tyrone near the town of Dungannon
There was many a ruction that meself had a hand in
Bob Williamson lived there, a weaver by trade
And oll of us thought him a stout orange blade
On the twelth of July as it yearly did come
Bob played with his old flute to the sound of a drum
You can talk of your harp, your piano or lute,
but nothing compared with the old orange flute

          Toora loo, toora lay, oh it's six miles from Bangor to Donaghadee

Now Bob, the deceiver, sure he took us all in
And he married a Papist called Bridget McGinn
Turned Papish himself and forsook the old cause
That gave us our freedom, religion and laws
Now the boys of the place made some comment upon it
And Bob had to flee to the province of Connaught
He fled with his wife and his fixings to boot
And along with the latter his old orange flute

          Toora loo, toora lay, oh it's six miles from Bangor to Donaghadee

At the chapel on sunday to atone for past deeds
Said Paters and Aves and counted his beads
Till after some time at the priest's own desire
Bob went with the old flute to play in the choir
He went with the old flute for to play in the mass
But the instrument shivered and sighed, oh alas
And try though he would, though it made a great noise
The flute would play only "The Protestant Boys"

          Toora loo, toora lay, oh it's six miles from Bangor to Donaghadee

At the council of priests that was held the next day
They decided to banish the old flute away
They couldn't knock heresy out of its head
So they bought Bob a new one to play in its stead
Now the old flute was doomed and its fate was pathetic
'Twas fastened and burned at the stake as heretic
As the flames soared around it they heard a queer noise
'Twas the old flute still playing "The Protestant Boys"

          Toora loo, toora lay, oh it's six miles from Bangor to Donaghadee

~ . ~

The Composer
Wystan Hugh Auden

All the others translate:  the painter sketches
A visible world to love or reject;
Rummaging into his living, the poet fetches
The images out that hurt and connect,

From Life to Art by painstaking adaptation,
Relying on us to cover the rift;
Only your notes are pure contraption,
Only your song is an absolute gift.

Pour out your presence, a delight cascading
The falls of the knee and the weirs of the spine,
Our climate of silence and doubt invading;

You alone, alone, imaginary song,
Are unable to say an existence is wrong,
And pour out your forgiveness like a wine.

~ . ~

I Am in Need of Music
Elizabeth Bishop

I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling fingertips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,
Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,
A song to fall like water on my head,
And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!

There is a magic made by melody:
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.

~ . ~

Blue Evening
Rupert Brooke

My restless blood now lies a-quiver,
Knowing that always, exquisitely,
This April twilight on the river
Stirs anguish in the heart of me.

For the fast world in that rare glimmer
Puts on the witchery of a dream,
The straight grey buildings, richly dimmer,
The fiery windows, and the stream

With willows leaning quietly over,
The still ecstatic fading skies  .  .  .
And all these, like a waiting lover,
Murmur and gleam, lift lustrous eyes,

Drift close to me, and sideways bending
Whisper delicious words.
But I
Stretch terrible hands, uncomprehending,
Shaken with love; and laugh; and cry.

My agony made the willows quiver;
I heard the knocking of my heart
Die loudly down the windless river,
I heard the pale skies fall apart,

And the shrill stars' unmeaning laughter,
And my voice with the vocal trees
Weeping. And Hatred followed after,
Shrilling madly down the breeze.

In peace from the wild heart of clamour,
A flower in moonlight, she was there,
Was rippling down white ways of glamour
Quietly laid on wave and air.

Her passing left no leaf a-quiver.
Pale flowers wreathed her white, white brows.
Her feet were silence on the river;
And "Hush!" she said, between the boughs.

(From The Collected Poems (1915))

~ . ~

Perplexed Music
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Experience, like a pale musician, holds
A dulcimer of patience in his hand,
Whence harmonies, we cannot understand,
Of God; will in his worlds, the strain unfolds
In sad-perplexed minors:  deathly colds
Fall on us while we hear, and countermand
Our sanguine heart back from the fancyland
With nightingales in visionary wolds.
We murmur 'Where is any certain tune
Or measured music in such notes as these?'
But angels, leaning from the golden seat,
Are not so minded their fine ear hath won
The issue of completed cadences,
And, smiling down the stars, they whisper — sweet.

[Browning, Pied Piper]~ . ~

~ . ~

Raymond Carver

It was a night like all the others. Empty
of everything save memory. He thought
he'd got to the other side of things.
But he hadn't. He read a little
and listened to the radio. Looked out the window
for a while. Then went upstairs. In bed
realized he'd left the radio on.
But he closed his eyes anyway. Inside the deep night,
as the house sailed west, he woke up
To hear voices murmuring. And froze.
Then understood it was only the radio.
He got up and went downstairs. He had
to pee anyway. A little rain
that hadn't been there before was
falling outside. The voices
on the radio faded and then came back
as if from a long way. It wasn't
the same station any longer. A man's voice
said something about Borodin,
and his opera Prince Igor. The woman
he said this to agreed, and laughed.
Began to tell her a little of the story.
The man's hand drew back from the switch.
Once more he found himself in the presence
Of mystery. Rain. Laughter. History.
Art. The hegemony of death.
He stood there, listening.

~ .

Raymond Carver

Franz Liszt eloped with countess Marie D'Agoult,
Who wrote novels. Polite society washed its hands
of him, and his countess-novelist whore.
Liszt gave her three children, and music.
Then went off with Princess Wittgenstein.
Cosima, Liszt's daughter, married
the conductor, Hans von Bülow.
But Richard Wagner stole her. Took her away
to Bayreuth. Where Liszt showed up one morning.
Long white hair flouncing.
Shaking his fist. Music. Music!
Everybody grew more famous.

~ . ~

The Æollian Harp
Samuel Coleridge

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 !


~ . ~

Music in an Empty House
Hugh Sykes Davies

The house was empty and
     the people of the house
     gone many months
Months for the weevil
     for the patient worm
     timber-mole softly tunnelling
     for the parliament of rats

Footsteps slink past
     damp walls

Slow feet
     warily scuff
     bare boards
The much-bitten

In a certain curtain'd room
     the halting steps evade
     chairs white shrouded

To twitch the winding-sheet
     around a grand piano
     thin phalanx of sound
     sharp rat's teeth edge yellow
     with decay

The much-bitten

On rat's teeth-edge
fingers preparate

Then falling send
     as tenantry
     darnp-muffied chords
     rusting strings
     a still-born song

Their fortissimo The tattered
     scarce tapestry
     stirs holds
     near many
     cobwebs moths

~ . ~

Emily Dickinson

Musicians wrestle everywhere—
All day—among the crowded air
I hear the silver strife—
And—waking-long before the morn—
Such transport breaks upon the town
I think it that "New Life"!

It is not Bird—it has no nest—
Nor "Band"-in brass and scarlet—drest—
Nor Tamborin—nor Man—
It is not Hymn from pulpit read—
The "Morning Stars" the Treble led
On Time's first Afternoon!

Some-say-it is the "Spheres"—at play!
Some say that bright Majority
Of vanished Dames, and Men!
Some-think it service in the place
Where we—with late-celestial face—
Please God—shall Ascertain!

[Dryden, Feast]~ . ~

~ . ~

Come In
Robert Frost

As I came to the edge of the woods,
Thrush music—hark!
Now if it was dusk outside,
Inside it was dark.

Too dark in the woods for a bird
By sleight of wing
To better its perch for the night,
Though it still could sing.

The last of the light of the sun
That had died in the west
Still lived for one song more
In a thrush's breast.

Far in the pillared dark
Thrush music went—
Almost like a call to come in
To the dark and lament.

But no, I was out for stars;
I would not come in.
I meant not even if asked;
And I hadn't been.

(From A Witness Tree (1942))

~ . ~

Leporello on Don Giovanni
Jack Gilbert

Do you think it's easy for him, poor bastard?
To be that weak whenever their music begins?
It's not a convenient delight, a tempered scale.
Not a choice. As Saint Francis had no choice,
Needing to be walled up in his stone cell all winter.
To be flogged through Assisi naked and foul.
God is not optional when faith is like that.
But Francis had a vocation, not a need for silly women.
Giovanni really believes they are important.
Talks about them as parallel systems. Crazy stuff.
An educated gentleman of the finest family
wandering off helplessly after their faintest glimmer.
He believes there is a secret melded with the ladies.
He smiles and nods all evening as he listens
To their chatter and their whining about their husbands.
He says the world changes because of them.
Their flesh unfolds and he goes through to something
beyond the flesh. Hears a voice, he says.
A primitive radio at the core of them.
Growing and fading, as though it comes from the moon.

~ . ~

To Music: a Song
Robert Herrick

Music, thou Queen of Heaven, Care-charming-spell,
That strik'st a stillness into hell:
Thou that tam'st Tygers, and fierce storms (that rise)
With thy soul-melting Lullabies:
Fall down, down, down, from those thy chiming spheres,
To charm our souls, as thou enchant'st our ears.

~ . ~

To Autumn
John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun,
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer hast o'er-brimmed their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twinéd flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too—
While barréd clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue:
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives of dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

(From Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems (1820))

~ . ~

At a Solemn Music
John Milton

Blest pair of Sirens, pledges of Heav'n's joy,
Sphere-born harmonious Sisters, Voice and Verse,
Wed your divine sounds, and mixt power employ
Dead things with inbreath'd sense able to pierce,
And to our high-rais'd fantasy present
That undisturbed Song of pure concent,
Ay sung before that saphire-colour'd throne
To Him that sits thereon
With Saintly shout and solemn Jubilee,
Where the bright Seraphim in burning row
Their loud up-lifted Angel trumpets blow,
And the Cherubic host in thousand choirs
Touch their immortal Harps of golden wires,
With those just Spirits that wear victorious Palms,
Hymns devout and holy Psalms
Singing everlastingly;
That we on Earth with undiscording voice
May rightly answer that melodious noise;
As once we did, till disproportion'd sin
Jarr'd against Nature's chime, and with harsh din
Broke the fair music that all creatures made
To their great Lord, whose love their motion sway'd
In first obedience, and their state of good.
And keep in tune with Heav'n, till God ere long
To His celestial consort us unite,
To live with Him, and sing in endless morn of light.

~ . ~