A poem after the 2nd movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7.
That dip in existence, that hollow, that falling off place, cliff or abyss
where silence waits, lurks, hovers, beneath world, beneath sense;
that barren of stillness, hugely inert, waiting for us to surrender again,
give over our hardly heard mewling and braying to its implacable craw.
But now, abruptly, seemingly too from falling place, void or abyss,
the first chord, then, extruded from it yet somehow bringing with it
the silence behind it, come theme, counter theme, both keeping in them
the threat of reversion, regression, relapse back to devouring silence,
yet keeping us in them as well, so our dread of that vastness is calmed,
and we can respond, as though we'd been created, evolved to respond.
That tangle, that weaving, that complicating in music and mind;
that counterpoint spun like a nest of filament, lichen, and down;
that magical no-longer-silence which takes us, is with us, is in us;
the roar of logic and the baying of our needs and desires all stilled,
and silence again is that hallowed place in the kingdom of being
where one note can change to the next, one key to another;
and in that shimmer we're brought back to the first theme of silence,
but danced now, fugued now, ecstatically transfigured and vanquished,
so we can return to the primal chord that began this, begat this,
and brings this all to its end; this exultation, this splendor, this bliss.
--C. K. Williams
Fantastic as always. I listen to your show every morning at work, glad to have a guide to explain to me the stories behind the music.
This new poem by C.K. Williams, though, is extra special. Instead of hearing the story behind the music, we're hearing the music transfigured into words. Listening to Williams' poem was a sort of double hearing.
By the way, you were right about the nest imagery--a place of birth out of silence. And Williams was right, too, that an image invisible even to the poet can be discovered by a reader. Readers bring meaning to poetry and prose, just as musicians bring meaning to music.
Thanks, Fred, for inspiring us daily, and thanks for inspiring C.K. Williams to bring into being a new piece of music.
Fred, you seemed a bit lost in interpreting this poem, so I offer these thoughts:
the poem is about that place within us all that is our source and our serenity. That place, that power, is beyond logic and yet is the foundation of logic. That place is beyond personal circumstance and yet allows us to face each day with strength and courage and joy--even on the day of death. That place is our connection to other people (alive and dead), our connection to the world we know and to the universe of suns and stars and planets and all we cannot experience physically. That place is where religion, when it does its job, can take us and help us return safely. Some of us experience this place in meditation; others may find it in service to others; still others, perhaps, in climbing mountains?
I was skeptical of this project, but after hearing the poem, I am grateful the words. Thank you for a poem I will cherish and for fresh insight into music I already loved.
Posted by Ida Domazlicky | April 1, 2009 9:46 AM
Bravo! Many thanks—to Mr. Williams and to Mr. Child for making this happen. We hope that this can become an annual tradition.
Kathryn & Allan
Posted by Allan Mahnke | April 1, 2009 11:27 AM
What mannered drivel. ("...flower in the crannied wall, I pluck thee out of thy crannies...")
Posted by Michael Cole | April 1, 2009 11:31 AM
Fred- Thank you so much for the music and the poetry today. I really loved the poem at first hearing. I will be reading it over and over again to really absorb it. There is so much to understand just like listening to music it takes time to make it part of my body.
I really looked forward to April 1 when the poem was to be read. I really enjoy when arts cross over as an avid painter myself, music poetry, dance, all enrich. Thank you Harriet
Posted by Harriet | April 1, 2009 1:01 PM
Fred: I was moved by C.K. Williams' poem, particularly because of the strong affinity I have for the Beethoven 7th...."the apotheosis of the dance" according to Wagner. I love exploring the cross-overs and connections made between art forms, and your music-to-verse project spoke so well of that kind of inspiration. That very symphony was my inspiration to start doing pre-concert lectures for my orchestra
www.newburghsymphony.org Thank you for following through and making that elusive connection a reality.
Posted by Gordon | April 1, 2009 8:04 PM
Dear Fred Child,
I met C.K. Williams about a week or two before I was aware of
your voting on the music to which he should write his poem.
He came to our campus (Georgia Southern U.) to read from his
After I learned of the voting, i wrote to Mr. Williams saying whichever piece of music won the popular vote, none could
better the 2nd movement of Beethoven's 7th. Tonight, as I was
going to a piano concert, your program came on and Charlie read his poem. I was almost late for the concert; I had to hear his poem. It was great! Not how I hear the 7th, but true to Mr. Williams' writing.
The only disappointment was the dirge tempo of much of the
2nd movement under Vanska's baton. Tsk, tsk.
Love your program.
Posted by Albert Pertalion | April 1, 2009 9:15 PM
just a little re-mix to show my appreciation for the stimulus your program provides.
To dance within the hollows of existence, or to respond to its music is like falling into grace, or out of a chord whose abruptness calms the void where one note can still dread its need to wait.
And what else do primal minds create then nests for counterpoint; it’s in their vastness, and by the use of magic that they change the desires of beings for kingdoms.
It’s in the rare tangle of notes that places spin us back into our music, and it’s there that we feel the roar of our need not to end a silence that shimmers like bliss as it weaves thru us.
Posted by afreed | April 8, 2009 10:38 AM
Love it, wonderful interpretation of life and death. I believe the "silence" actually is your "God". In this, we find comfort. I hope everyone has some type of peace in there mind. Or a piece of mind. Either one's find. Huh, an artists line. Don't quote me!! It's copywrited! Magnefic!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Posted by Scott Marlin | April 8, 2009 3:14 PM
I wouldn't go so far as "mannered drivel", but the rather breathless blissfulness of it all, the artifice of pretty, evocative wordiness sometimes for the sake of it as poets are wont to do, seems to me to miss the simple essence of this movement. Certainly heartfelt and clearly moving to many. But, to my mind, the poetry exists as a piece unto itself. Whether attached to the famous "allegretto" or not matters little. In other words, one needn't have the Beethoven in mind when reading this poetry. I'm not convinced the poet did to any large degree. If so, his interpretation of that movement is, in my opinion, overblown and over-sentimentalized, effusive, approaching an Elizabethan pretentiousness. My guess is the composer would be both embarrassed and not a little annoyed.
Posted by robert grant | April 13, 2009 11:32 PM