November/December 2018: Poetry Corner
Contributing Editor, Richard Zimdars
Poem by Howard Nemerov
Lines & Circularities
On hearing Casals' recording of the Sixth Suite
Deep in a time that cannot come again
Bach thought it through, this lonely and immense
Reflexion wherein our sorrows learn to dance.
And deep in the time that cannot come again
Casals recorded it. Playing it back,
And bending now over the instrument,
I watch the circling stillness of the disc,
The tracking inward of the tone-arm, enact
A mystery wherein the music shares:
How time, that comes and goes and vanishes
Never to come again, can come again.
How many silly miracles there are
That will not save us, neither will they save
The world, and yet they are miraculous:
The tone-arm following the spiral path
While moving inward on a shallow arc,
Making the music that companions it
Through winding ways to silence at the close;
The delicate needle that navigates these canyons
By contact with the edges, not the floor;
Black plastic that has memorized and kept
In its small plastic striations whatever it was told
By the master's mind and hand and bow and box,
Making such definite shudderings in the air
That Bach's intent arises from the tomb . . .
The Earth, that spins around upon herself
In the simple composition of Light and Dark,
And varying her distance on the Sun
Makes up the Seasons and the Years, and Time
Itself, whereof the angels make record;
The Sun, swinging his several satellites
Around himself and slowly round the cast
Galactic rim and out to the unknown
Past Vega at the apex of his path;
And all this in the inward of the mind,
Where the great cantor sings his songs to God . . .
The music dances to its inner edge
And stops. The tone-arm lifts and cocks its head
An instant, as if listening for something
That is no longer there but might be; then
Returns to rest, as with a definite click
The whole strange business turns itself off.
Bio: Howard Nemerov (1920-1991) was an American poet, teacher, and pilot in WW II. His Collected Poems received the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. He was poet laureate of the United States from 1988 to 1990.
Credits: "Lines and Circularities" from The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (University of Chicago Press, 1981) is reprinted with permission of the estate of Howard Nemerov.