(Poem #1158) Music
My friend went to the piano; spun the stool A little higher; left his pipe to cool; Picked up a fat green volume from the chest; And propped it open. Whitely without rest, His fingers swept the keys that flashed like swords, . . . And to the brute drums of barbarian hordes, Roaring and thunderous and weapon-bare, An army stormed the bastions of the air! Dreadful with banners, fire to slay and parch, Marching together as the lightnings march, And swift as storm-clouds. Brazen helms and cars Clanged to a fierce resurgence of old wars Above the screaming horns. In state they passed, Trampling and splendid on and sought the vast Rending the darkness like a leaping knife, The flame, the noble pageant of our life! The burning seal that stamps man's high indenture To vain attempt and most forlorn adventure; Romance, and purple seas, and toppling towns, And the wind's valiance crying o'er the downs; That nerves the silly hand, the feeble brain, From the loose net of words to deeds again And to all courage! Perilous and sharp The last chord shook me as wind shakes a harp! . . . And my friend swung round on his stool, and from gods we were men, "How pretty!" we said; and went on with our talk again.
I loved this poem - Benet achieves a passionate intensity that spills through his writing, that stirs me and makes me shiver. (His "Winged Man" [Poem #609] remains my favourite poetic discovery since we started Minstrels.) There is, indeed, a certain measure of self-reference in today's poem, in that it works best if you're in the same frame of mind as the narrator is - if, like someone listening to a piece of music, you are prepared to *feel* as much as interpret the words. On the other hand, the poem's very intensity of emotion leaves it open to criticism - it is very, very hard to combine a high degree of passion with the perfect, elegant control that the ideal poem would demand, and Benet has opted here to err on the side of passion. If someone wished, he or she could doubtless pin the poem to a dissecting board, and examine its flaws in minute detail. Personally, I'd rather enjoy it. Which brings us to the other remarkable feature of today's poem - the brilliantly crafted sting in its tail. Benet has captured a common problem - expressions of genuine appreciation have all too often been replaced by banalities that sound almost more dismissive than appreciative. Whether from inarticulateness, or from a desire to appear 'sophisticated' by not being too openly impressed, the pattern is one that I'm sure everyone has observed at some point or the other. And finally, this too could be self-referential - the unappreciatedness of poets is a common poetic theme. Wonder why :) martin