Mahler and Me

Image: Public Domain
Vicariously, courtesy the internet, we can seek out the orchestral experiences of yesteryear on our screens.

When I was young, can’t quite remember that time,
Mahler’s Second Symphony was enough for me.
I was a busy lad and rushed about, and could not
Sit through all he wrote. So that was that.

But now I am eighty, and when the sun dips down
And I can no longer read or write, I don’t know what to do,
For it’s too early to go to bed, and I have time on my hands.
So, thank God for Mahler, the YouTube, Claudio Abbado
At the Lucerne Festival. I sit back and let it rip.

A grand man, Mahler, he loves everything that makes a noise,
A piccolo, a glockenspiel, the cymbals, horns and even a tuba,
Between tall harps with silenced fingers.
I love to see them at it, a thousand strong orchestra,
Hour upon unending hour.
Then comes the serried French horns, I never see their faces,
Only their right hands stuffed in brass, maybe they are stumps, who knows?
Ah! The cello’s silken back, swished by long blonde tresses,
Why, I can scent her armpit at five years and ten thousand miles away,
Then she is gone, and a hoary grandfather is sawing at his violin,
The cymbals blare, the kettledrummer swivels banging into everything,
A stealthy trombone is shaking it out, and I am drowsy.

Silence falls, and I start up with a jerk, what?
Over so soon, can’t be?
Claudio Abbado has lifted his finger off cautioning lips,
That Chinese imp I rather fancy is puffing into her oboe
Beside that lean student whispering in his flute,
And the horns and trombones are back
Beside the phalanx of double basses, and I sink back.

But nothing lasts in the world.
The ‘bravos’ and ‘hurrahs’ resound around the great hall,
Everybody is shaking hands with everyone else,
The buckets of flowers come out
Abbado is in and out and still the cheers go on.

At last my screen dims, and I think of Mahler
In his golden age, when he didn’t have to watch the clock,
And people – our sort, I mean – didn’t work from nine to five.
His admirers would take the hansom cab back to the café
For a midnight supper and then home by cockcrow.
Well, it is time for me to creep to bed.

***

Madras Courier originally ran as a broadsheet with a poetry section. It was a time when readers felt comfortable sharing glimpses of their lives through verse. If you too have a poem you’d like to submit, do email us at editor@madrascourier.com.

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