I’ve been reading poems by Sara Teasdale. I don’t think she’s extremely well-known, but she’s on the rise again. She says things like “No one worth possessing / Can be quite possessed; / Lay that on your heart / My young angry dear.” Who says that?
I was struck by one of her poems–“To E.”–in which she recounts the beautiful imagery she has seen and heard–“black silences of the night,” “running water singing on the rocks,” and this phrase, “the clean swift brightness of a fugue of Bach’s.” Yes, she did rhyme rocks and Back’s. But then she pulls out of her heart the great confession: “But all remembered beauty is no more / Than a vague prelude to the thoughts of you.”
Even a Bach fugue is a prelude.
This got me thinking again about my own list of remembered treasures. I don’t have a poem for it, but here is a little record of all the beautiful things to which I once promised my affection–my life, my fortune, and my sacred honor (#WhenInTheCourseOfHumanEvents #1776 #VirginiaSaysYea). Maybe just my affection.
Ok music first. When I was fourteen my band teacher showed us a tape of Eric Clapton and Duane Allman playing Layla on an outdoor stage. The sailing guitars lifted me up off my knees as I rose into the heavy heat of the summer clouds. I don’t think I’ve ever quite stopped singing this.
I’ve also loved along classical lines. There’s the concerto moments of course–the part when Beethoven brings back in the orchestra, wrapping the corners of its insistent heat around the restless shuddering of the piano cadenza, which continues in ghostlike whispers: something is coming. (Watch from 6:16).
There’s the way Horowitz plays the octave section of the A flat Polonaise, with giddy delight. (4:18 onwards).
And though my heat has strayed, the Schubert Impromptu in A flat is a courtyard by whose gurgling fountain I learned to love. (Start watching at 1:26). I could kiss that tenor line in a heartbeat. But only for a heartbeat. In an instant it is gone. Ah the piano. Ah humanity.
I have loved Marlow’s (ok, Joseph Conrad’s) words: “…he went on, with his eyes straight before him, as if reading off something written on the body of the night.” And I would marry this sentence if I could, again from Lord Jim:
The world was still, the night breathed on them one of those nights that seem created for the sheltering of tenderness, and there are moments when our souls, as if freed from their dark envelope, glow with an exquisite sensibility that makes certain silences more lucid than speeches.
I will never forget my visit with Bethany to the exhibition in the Van Gogh museum of his paintings of farms at twilight. Conrad’s words remind me of these nights.
What else? Alanis Morissette? Dawn in the California pines? Wide afternoons on hardwood floors? Poached eggs?
I could have sex with a poached egg.
When I was four–on a cruise, where you can be this picky (not that social conventions ever stopped me in this respect–my parents were good parents–I was just horrible) I returned again and again each plate of eggs that they brought out to me. With growing rage, I refused to eat and refused to be comforted. Until they brought me poached eggs, soft pearls of warmth, curled into themselves. Neither scrambled nor fried could satisfy me, neither easy nor hard, neither over nor under–only the within of a round poached egg, gleaming like a dinosaur egg on a piece of toast.
It didn’t matter to me that I got magic marker ink all over them when I touched them with my fingers: in that moment I was born. All my life from that tablecloth on may very well be the outworking of that hidden moment when I opened wide my eyes and mouth and hands, when I tasted for the very first time.
The rest is the journey.