So chestnuts are dropping everywhere and I have a hard time not thinking of Mark Doty’s “Grosse Fugue,” about Beethoven’s quartet and difficult times, when I see them. (No online text but the whole collection–Atlantis–is worth getting.)
I love this because I first read it in the fall when I was a student, full of hope and promise, just discovering chestnut trees on campus, and the thought of playing the Grosse Fugue someday wasn’t completely ludicrous;* and I loved it because it talked about music–which I knew all about, of course–and because it sounded so musical itself. For example:
is like lying down in that light which gleams
out of chestnuts, the glow of oiled and rubbed
mahogany, of burled walnut, bird’s-eye
maple polished into incandescence:
autumn’s essence of brass and resin, bronze
and apples, the evanescent’s brisk smoke.
And because I promised plural poems that mention chestnuts, here’s Neruda’s “Ode to a Chestnut Lying on the Ground.” This doesn’t have the same richness of association, since I discovered it this week searching for the online text of “Grosse Fugue,” but it’s very charming:
From bristly foliage
complete, polished wood, gleaming mahogany,
as a violin newly
born of the treetops,
offers its sealed-in gifts,
the hidden sweetness
that grew in secret
amid birds and leaves,
a model of form,
kin to wood and flour,
an oval instrument
that holds within it
intact delight, an edible rose.
Music metaphors again. Chestnuts must be very poetic.
*I regret not learning four things back when I could play: Schubert’s Cello Quintet, all of the Bach partita in D minor (I did get some of it, though), this Beethoven fugue, and the first Brahams sonata. Although I remember telling my teacher I wanted to learn the Brahams, and getting a look that I interpreted out loud as, “I should wait until I’m fifty?” She nodded. So I suppose I can still learn it.