Too Much Music

September 2, 2009

1.

I don’t know, you just can’t beat a good parade—

And John Philip Sousa, either.  Either

The Colonel Bogey March, or Stars and Stripes

Forever—or—do both! A row of drums,

A row of trumpets, fifes and flutes, my fav

The glockenspiel, the cymbals, saxophones,

Sousaphones, of course. Then—then—the Mayor’s car,

The fire department, police cars, girl scouts,

Boy Scouts, the K of C—fucking A—even the

4 H Club wants in!  Still, it’s a strange, strange

Prolegomenon to silence, this parade.

Like, it could be an ancient battle of

The bands, like that Charles Ives’ thing where

These two bands march along Main Street, you know,

And pass each other playing all the tunes

They can imagine…and imagine they do it

Every day, music for everybody,

24/ 7. Some imagination, right?

But silence used to speak louder than that.

Turn off the lights, my dear. It’s time for bed.

The music of the spheres is greater still.

2.

…than simple sound, like it used to pretend

To be Sousa. But tonight we will speak

Of gentleness—really no choice—the eye’s

Plain version is a thing apart, the vulgate

Of experience—for that’s Charles Ives

Alone out there in the Commons, standing

Rigid with the cold, intent on that

Dark sculpture Saint-Gaudens built to honor

The men of the 54th Massachusetts,

A kind of death mask for the union dead.

Yes, unimpeachable, the eye—and plain:

For veterans still alive and living out

Their lives in Oddfellows homes, some tied

In chairs to prevent aimless wandering:

The vulgate of experience—sure—and

A mind of song, too—for old Civil War

Ditties, for The Girl I Left Behind Me,

For Barbara Allen, you name it, a whole

Universe of crashing symbols which these days

Have to be ironic—sure—but surely this is

The special gift Mr. Ives brings to the world:

To take the irony out, leave the music,

And leave a gentle rain to fall on minds

That are more awash with death and friends…

3.

So—it’s a poem that the poem, and the painting of

The poem, the sculpture of the poem—its music—

Unique, must win for The Poem to win. The Poem

Beyond, that is, its genesis, thus.

Stuff that, sir.

Regurgitate that, sir.

Santayana would be proud, sir—

Thus, the poet whose name will bear no

Common inflection, Wallace Stevens, late

Again, thus cuts across the great Commons.

Aesthetic winds must muss his hair. Must win,

That is, must trump the form, just read Pater.

(He means that thing about all arts aspire

Continuously—continuously—to a

Condition of music.) But you could say

All arts condition music too, fructify

And feed music—they must. Thus: Take this bronze…

He stops, no longer late. The soldiers must

Be marching to some tune, some drum beating

Somewhere. It’s only silence now. Licentious

Demons! A gathering in the grass, a gathering of

The solitary: a sculptor did that,

—You ask—an art without a sound to share?

Sure, we could sing, or try to whistle, but

That genesis? The poem must win for the

Music to win. He stops, aghast: for freedom

To win, democracy… A ghost will rise

Above the field, this common field, they do

It every day. All the ghosts will rise. The war, sir,

The war between the mind and sky, sir.

Construct a syllogism…sir.  To win.

4.

Shaw, sir, Sir Robert Shaw, sir, reporting

For duty. Just in from Charleston, sir…

My God, he’s nervous, sweating, standing here,

A sometime sentinel, a silent soldier—

Who happens to be shitting in his shorts right now.

It was Charleston, wasn’t it? It seems

So long ago…that death thing…so…so fast…

He’s not a raw recruit, you know. He was

To lead those men, the Negros, lead and master,

Command them. And now, a tribunal? Shit.

…And had he really just called himself

Sir Robert Shaw? Well, smiles, a whole table

Of smiles. Very good,’ Sir’ Robert. I think

I shall restrict myself to ‘Colonel’ Shaw’,

Your last official writ—on earth—you know…

Avuncular smiles around the table. This

Will not be bad, he thought. They understood…

5.

They understood shit, is what they did.

Watch this ‘avuncular’ grin grow a great head

And start barking—like a dog, a frightened dog—

A growl of strange commands. Dogs bark

To sound so big and fierce, so brave—Aw, there’s

A good little pouchie—and because they’re scared

Themselves. Should Sir Robert stand his ground?

Should he ask for something more to the point?

Something clear and linear, a story he

Can understand? His life has been a series

Of reprimands—dogs bite as well as bark—

And that music—it’s Charles Ives isn’t it?—

It’s beyond death, this thing, a song: The thing

About the afterlife, it should be, sir,

Eternity—is that the word? It should

Be timeless contemplation, a formal

Final silence, adoration, skill

Where skill was lacking, in divinity…

He settles for a simple, timid question:

Am I to be punished, sir?

(I bleed the same color of blood they do.

I cry in pain. I eat, I sleep. I miss

My children. I miss a quiet summer’s walk.

I miss my youth, my wife, my dogs, the sun,

The snow, the grapes growing ripe, Gramp on

The porch, I miss the smell of the leaves burning,

I miss the music, the crows on the roof,

Roosters, swimming, getting stupid drunk.

I miss too much. Too much music.  This ought

To be the punishment. Too much music.

The sweets of life deplete the source of life.

O, I could prophesy…)

6.

Go ahead sir, say it all:

O, I could prophesy,

But that the earthy and cold hand of death

Lies on my tongue: no, Percy, thou art dust

And food for—

For worms, Sir Robert.

There, you have an answer.

7.

I hear a song beginning up the hill, a march.

Must be the high school band, tuning up.

A crowd has gathered. There’s distant music,

A band is coming cross the bridge. They must

Be volunteers, or soldiers on parade.

Look at those bright, new uniforms! I think

We’ll let poor Robert Shaw, so brave and fierce,

Return to ground with his dead memories,

Demons inside his head. I smell the sea.

The wind whips up the flags. John Sousa is

In town. Colonel  Bogey ‘s coming down

The pike. So go ahead, strike up the band—

The kids are out of step, for sure, the drums

Are way too loud, the trumpets bleat, those fifes—

My God! This is a racket on parade!

It’s like a merry-go-round gone mad…

Still, go ahead and get yourself a pair

Of cymbals, and I’ll do glockenspiel.

A battle of the bands! I knew it.

You can’t have too much music!

You can’t have too much music!

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