Every year about this time I go back to listening to classical music, specifically Romantic-era chamber music: Middle and late Beethoven quartets and  string trios, Brahms and Schubert quartets and quintets, etc. So I’ve been saving this poem for this time of year since I saw it on The Writer’s Almanac earlier. “Sad and lavish in their tenderness” gets me every time, because it’s so true of so much Romantic music. (You can listen to the Brahms Intermezzi the poem talks about right here.)


by Lisel Mueller

Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann
The modern biographers worry
“how far it went,” their tender friendship.
They wonder just what it means
when he writes he thinks of her constantly,
his guardian angel, beloved friend.
The modern biographers ask
the rude, irrelevant question
of our age, as if the event
of two bodies meshing together
establishes the degree of love,
forgetting how softly Eros walked
in the nineteenth century, how a hand
held overlong or a gaze anchored
in someone’s eyes could unseat a heart,
and nuances of address, not known
in our egalitarian language
could make the redolent air
tremble and shimmer with the heat
of possibility. Each time I hear
the Intermezzi, sad
and lavish in their tenderness,
I imagine the two of them
sitting in a garden
among late-blooming roses
and dark cascades of leaves,
letting the landscape speak for them,
leaving nothing to overhear.