I have tried, on at least three occasions, to write a poem about a piece of music that has moved me. I’ve not been too happy with the finished products, and it should have been no surprise to me, because what’s the point in trying to write a poem about a piece of music, in the first place? Surely I should have realized that it’s not possible to describe, in words, what the music is expressing! Nevertheless, that is what I was trying to do in a short poem about Debussy’s “Claire de Lune”. In another poem, I wrote about how my feelings of sadness – after the death of my father – were deepened, listening to a Norfolk Rhapsody by Vaughan Williams. That poem wasn’t a complete failure, I think; probably because I was writing about my own feelings, rather than trying to describe the music itself. The height of my folly came when I was so obsessed by Satie’s “Gymnopedies No’1” that I ended-up writing a poem where each word stood for a separate note of music!
A few days ago, I happened to hear, purely by accident, Delius’s orchestral tone poem “On Hearing the First Cuckoo of Spring” twice on the same day, on the radio. Inevitably, I was overcome, again, by the impulse to write a poem about it. This time, I’m relatively happy with the end-result. I think it’s because the simplicity and repetitive nature of the cuckoo’s call is a useful stabilising factor.
Delius and the Cuckoo:
Delius heard the first cuckoo of spring.
He sat, enraptured, hearing it sing.
Hypnotic call, from invisible bird.
His spirits lifted, his sentiments stirred.
Plain, yet plangent; simple, yet strong.
The lilting rhythms of a cradle-song.
In silent repose, he began to hear
soft strings, lush woodwind, in his inner ear.
Rippling waters, fluttering breezes.
Momentum gathers, then slowly eases.
Cyclical patterns, round and round.
Fleeting, yet recurring, that haunting sound.
“Goodbye! Goodbye!” it sings, from on high.
Sadness wells up; a tear in his eye.
He must hold its message; capture its cry.
Like all living things, it is doomed to die.
Moments in time; staves on a page.
Transient memories, frozen with age.
All is stillness, now; he himself long gone.
Only the music, the music lives on.