Monday, April 06, 2009

Rita Dove

Ludwig Van Beethoven's Return to Vienna
by Rita Dove

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.

Today's Poetry month daily poem from A fine dramatic monologue, this one captures Beethoven's regal, tempestuous nature as he confronts his growing deafness. I love the first three stanzas, the vivid picture they create of the calm paradise to which he has retired, belied by the dread of his own approaching storm. I can almost hear growing crescendos of his 6th symphony, the Pastorale --although he may have been totally deaf by the time he got to that composition. Where I find the poem gets flabby is in the final two stanzas. Too talky, too equivocal, too much commentary. If I were to revise this poem, I would take away the explanation of Titan. Who needs it? Just the name Titan is enough. And end the poem with

I smile and bow, and the world is loud.
And I dare not lean in to shout
Can't you see that I am deaf?
-- for I am always listening.

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