Poem by John Freeman

Opus 131

That opening slow rising-and-falling tune
on the first violin, emerging out of silence,
descending to the understanding welcome
offered by second violin, viola,
and cello so discreet I scarcely hear it,
does for me what I think the face of Jesus
must do for a suffering believer,
acknowledge all the sorrow in the world,
and with no pretence of having cancelled
the hurt and loss, and aching deprivation,
accompany courageous recognition
with a tenderness of such commensurate
proportions it seems, if not divine, human
imagination and feeling making real
for us what divinity is, or – even
for the unbeliever lurking in me,
and absolute in many other listeners –
would be, if there were such an entity.
And now, thanks to deaf Beethoven, there is.
By itself the opening minute or so
goes far beyond most other consolations,
but it gives way to a long meditation,
built on its foundation, which continues
with courage, sometimes with a forcing will,
insisting on a jerky, dancing tempo,
to say that even among tragedies
to be alive is to know gaiety,
as much as to have breath and circulation,
at other times achieving, always under
the shadow of that comprehensive vision,
which overarches the entire quartet,
sublime rhythms of serenity.
Combative struggle is not missing either.
The players urge their instruments like horses,
galloping into some desperate battle,
a rising vehemence of affirmation,
in spite of, in the teeth of, everything
that might offer to defeat and thwart us.
We are not immortal in the body,
and our lives may be cut short, broken off
by malevolence or random accident.
A day may come when hands that can execute,
ears that can hear this music will be lacking.
While we still have them, those of us gathered
in this small church in the west of Ireland
on a gloomy day in mid-September
feel something not unlike a candle, lit
in our collective consciousness, by us all,
signifying an immortality,
though of whom, or what, we can’t be certain.

Opus 131 won second prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (February 2018) judged by Mandy Pannett.

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