Away from the bustle of the lakefront trade
across the wide expanse of clouded blue
on a small knot of land pushed out into the bay
behind a copse of trees down the gravel lane –
the house sits small and squat, not much
to look at from the outside, save for the flowerbeds,
its paint a nondescript light brown,
the doors and windows dark
their shades drawn shut to block the light
that seeks to fade and wash away the past.
And there inside, the tools and triumphs
of the man are kept, pristine,
their chronologic sense in tact
supported by small cards, with facts
giving no sense of the great expanse of sound
that must have soaked in every pore
of this house, once. Compared to that experience,
the reverent silence of the current guests
must seem so strange to these thick walls,
their very atoms once beseiged with Music,
day and night. And all the windows closed,
to cloak the rooms with graveyard pall;
the only sound the soothing hiss
of central air pushed through hidden vents.
I longed to touch the discolored keys
of the grand piano trapped behind the guide rope
aching to fill the house with raucous delight
to play so loudly that the tourists
buying chocolates in the square across the lake
crowding past the muraled walls
where Goethe sat impoverished, writing
the Sorrows of Young Werther
would look across the lake and wonder
at the sound, and stop their haggling.
When Goethe met Wagner’s hero, Ludwig,
it was in Switzerland. So strange that now
the house where Richard worked his last
should sound like the world of Beethoven in the end:
filled with the dull roar of silence,
the sounds of life, shouting out across the lake,
filtered through a stifling gauze
that makes the world seem unfit
for heroes that are not dead.
14 MAY 2004
Oh my dear friend, would you like to know why genius so rarely breaks its bonds, why it so seldom bursts upon us like a raging torrent to shatter our astounded souls? My friend, it is because of the sober gentlemen who reside on either side of the river, whose precious little summerhomes, tulip beds, and vegetable gardens would be ruined by it, and who know so well how to build dams and divert all such threatening danger in good time. — Johann Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther
When I have a little money, I do not buy food or other such trivialities. I buy books. – Erasmus
Ah, as Lawrence Olivier might say in one of his Nazi- or vampire-hunting roles … “I haf enlarged ze library mit some literature of ze mittle-Europeans.” Today at the bookstore, I picked up a few new volumes in a pre-Yule splurge:
The Sorrows of Young Werther and Selected Writings, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: This is something by Goethe that I have always meant to read. I used to have Kaufmann’s bilingual translation of Faust, but it has been a long time since I read anything else by one of my literary, philosophy and scientific inspirations. About 10 years ago, I was in Switzerland and saw the garrett in Lucerne where Goethe lived for a time.
Mysteries, Knut Hamsun: I was turned onto Hamsun about 15 years ago when I encountered him in the works of Henry Miller. Miller praises him constantly throughout the Tropics books. At that time, I picked up Hunger, which is probably Hamsun’s most known work. I liked it a great deal, but at the time my reading was limited to what I could find at the library, so Hamsun took a back seat to other writers. I’m looking forward to this one.
Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke: Also about 10 years ago, a friend of mine who fancied herself a poet was always toting around a copy of this book. I looked at it briefly, but never owned a copy myself. I really like Rilke’s Poetry, and have seen various quotations from this book floating around recently – so I thought I’d do myself the favor of revisting it.
Beowulf – A New Verse Translation, Seamus Heaney: I’ve plowed through several different versions of Beowulf in the past 25 years. So why would I buy another one? First, I have been reading some things about Heaney as a poet and philosopher that have made me think about writing and what it means to be a poet. Second, I read a few excerpts of the text on-line at Amazon, and I liked the way the verse flowed. Third, this is bilingual edition, in both modern English and Anglo-Saxon. I like bilingual editions as a rule, and really needed no excuse to add this one to the library.