Wagner’s House on Lake Lucerne

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

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