As evidence of the ability of music to organize our emotional life (referred to in my last entry), I adduce one of my favorite poems, C Minor by Richard Wilbur (1974), which I lift from The Atlantic, where it first appeared. Not only does Wilbur affirm the sense that music says something real about life, there’s a mild complaint about the ultimate disconnect between Beethoven’s 1805 musings in Vienna and the daily life of Americans today, which we could take as a suggestion that new experiences require new music to organize them:
Beethoven during breakfast? The human soul,
Though stalked by hollow pluckings, winning out
(While bran flakes crackle in the cereal bowl)
Over despair and doubt?
You are right to switch it off and let the day
Begin at hazard, perhaps with pecker-knocks
In the sugar-bush, the rancor of a jay,
Or in the letter box
Something that makes you pause and with fixed shadow
Stand on the driveway gravel, your bent head
Scanning the snatched pages until the sad
Or fortunate news is read.
The day’s work will be disappointing or not,
Giving at least some pleasure in taking pains.
One of us, hoeing in the garden plot
(Unless, of course, it rains)
May rejoice at the knitting of light in fennel plumes
And dew like mercury on cabbage hide,
Or rise and pace through too familiar rooms,
Balked and dissatisfied.
Shall a plate be broken? A new thing understood?
Shall we be lonely, and by love consoled?
What shall I whistle, splitting the kindling wood?
Shall the night-wind be cold?
How should I know? And even if we were fated
Hugely to suffer, grandly to endure,
It would not help to hear it all fore-stated
As in an overture.
There is nothing to do with a day except to live it.
Let us have music again when the light dies
(Sullenly, or in glory) and we can give it
Something to organize.
The link given above also provides a Real Player recording of Wilbur reading the poem, which I’d never heard.