Verklärte Nacht

Bruce Bond

The dawn of the age is an old tune just barely in d minor.
You can go there, listen, hear what Arnold Schoenberg heard

as he walked the block at midnight composing in his head.
You can turn the page scarred with accidentals and feel the tonal

constellations breaking down: stars pulled from one another,
night from day, day from days before, and, behind the system,

the beauty of the clear black glass. But the system remains.
It gives blood to the corpus, a pulsing structure to the blood.

To listen is to know half the music is never there, as the whole
of a language lies elsewhere in an act of speech, or the screen

lies low in exile, beyond the movie, invisible, blind, and nothing
comes to light without it. A glow of promise gives each detail

the darkness of an inner life. Without which mass has no gravity,
starlight no contingency, no fiery nature, the warm slash chord

no sternum to divide. The double-flatted and refused, they call
to the transfixed who hear less the indictment of a practice

than a facelift to its gods. Progress as numbed, sliced, needled,
stitched. By angel of accident or grace, the unexpected aberration

spreads to breed a culture of permission. A Mesmer, a Freud,
a lust, an André Breton, an automatic method. They are in there

if you listen, slit open by the long nocturnal scalpel of the strings.
Clarity is never so clear as imagined. But the graves are opening.

Mist is rising. A newly sharped voice-leading presses deeper into flesh.
Schoenberg was in love, and in the heaven of a season

some call cloudy, others clear, he read a poem about a woman,
shy, ashamed, pregnant by someone other than her lover.

But the lover forgives her, and so this arc of stars across
the reaches of d minor, these bone-inflected wings against

the staves. Schoenberg was in love and soon would marry.
Soon the wilderness of culture would get more poisonous.

To every birth, the pain that leads an infant to its refuge,
the exile to a home. If the poem made audible its anthem

of forgiveness, it needed what forgiveness needs.
Not amnesia but resistance. It needed to pull the thread

of tension from this violin, that transgression. To recall
just so much. Never more. After all, there was a child

on the way, a room to prepare. There was a new life now,
in whom the cry of nights to come opened to admit him.

Bruce Bond is the author of more than twenty books, including Blackout Starlight: New and Selected Poems 1997-2015, Black Anthem, and Sacrum. He is Regents Professor of English at the University of North Texas.
Originally published:
October 1, 2018


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