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April 27, 2015

On Sunday night, I played a concert which included Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique symphony, a glorious piece of music to be in the middle of–and the middle of the orchestra is where the second violins sit. We hear all the notes, as they’re woven around us. For weeks now, I’ve heard the decending intervals of the last movement of the Pathetique playing in my head, getting lower and softer as I walk down the hallway towards my bedroom at the end of the day.

Another piece we played for the concert is a requiem for the composer’s mother, our director. It plays in my head some too–mostly three short bursts, repeated by different instruments. We have practiced playing this music for two hours a week since the end of February, long enough for the walk into the music building to take place in daylight for the last few rehearsals, although we always drive home in the dark.

Ron was out raking up last fall’s leaves in the garden on a sunny Sunday afternoon while I came and went, setting up for an event in the Writing Center and attending the final afternoon rehearsal before the concert that evening. He said it was warm in the sun. I was rushing around too fast to find out if it would feel warm to me.

This morning I woke up and read an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem, “Spring,” at Come Sit by the Hearth, and it seemed to encapsulate everything I had been too busy to hear and feel:

To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

It is apparent that there is no death…and yet how the first appearance of spring makes me miss those I have lost–my father and father-in-law, my Sammy, recently-enough buried that I hate to think about the coldness of his grave in the spring rain.

The flights of stairs to the stage where we play our concerts are harder for me to ascend each year. As I awkwardly bend one knee at a time, I remember previous years when it was easier to get up those same flights.

Flowers are a distraction. Underneath, the exquisite sadness of a piece like the Pathetique seems like the only enduring truth in the world, like a little cat grave on the cold hillside.

Perhaps the “babbling and strewing flowers” has to go on long enough before we can give in to it, give ourselves entirely over to hopes of longer and warmer days, of ascending intervals in pieces we’ve rehearsed but forgotten.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 27, 2015 10:43 am

    This was really a beautifully written post. And how lucky you are to be able to play beautiful music. To me, Spring always brings a feeling of “lightness”, very unlike Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem – which is dark. But you can pick up your violin and get lost in Tschaikovsky! How fabulous is that!!

    • April 29, 2015 10:59 am

      It is fabulous. I can only do it with a group; I’m no soloist. (Except, of course, sometimes when I’m alone in the house I like to play the monster-calling tune from Young Frankenstein.)

  2. April 27, 2015 1:12 pm

    I didn’t know you played violin! That is really wonderful. I have always wanted to learn how to play an instrument. My parents couldn’t afford lessons when I was a kid and then as an adult I find myself too busy. Maybe one day. Thanks for sharing the poem and the thoughts it and spring bring to mind. Lovely.

    • April 29, 2015 11:03 am

      When I was in high school, my parents managed to afford to buy me a better violin than my learner/rental one. I played in college and then carried my instrument around for a few years until I landed in a college town with a small, volunteer symphony. I played with them until Eleanor was born, and then took it up again when she was 11 and have played ever since.

  3. April 28, 2015 1:23 pm

    Aw, Jeanne. What a lovely post. I admit that I love Edna St. Vincent Millay the best when she’s at her most morbid, but I am feeling exceptionally fond of April. It’s been a rocky few months for my family (my mum particularly!), and I am glad to have some time to sit quietly in the sun.

    • April 29, 2015 11:08 am

      I think the end of the poem does betray fondness for April. Who else but someone you love would you stay for, to hear the babbling and see the strewing? Even my very grown-up kids will sometimes still get in the spirit when we recount for the third time our made-up 25th verse of Froggy Went A-Courtin’ or find a big enough chocolate bunny to surprise them out of their new-found dignity.

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