Poetry Friday - The Collected Works of Susan Ramsey
Today's selection, much like last week's, comes from Poetry East (Spring, 2007).
Gaudeamus, Full Band Version
Eric Clapton’s Layla is a mess
I love, wailing guitar lament refuted
by rich piano, the guitars relenting
in the end but no real resolution,
just a dwindling, a musical entropy,
like a toddler slipping from tantrum into sleep.
I’m a musical moron who would rather play
Bach in the background while I brush my teeth
than sit with a symphony orchestra, missing my knitting.
So why do I tear up every time I hear
that high note in the final line of Brahms’s
“Academic Festival Overture?”
It is, after all, a glorious joke,
response to being told a thank-you postcard
in exchange for an honorary doctorate
is insufficient. Very well, Brahms responded,
and sent that ponderous title to them, scored
for the biggest orchestra of his life.
Size matters. I downloaded a favorite song
and thought I’d been wrong to like it, felt memory
had gilded it, or that age had drained the pleasure,
like ears or tongue dulling until my son suggested
“You’ve got ‘acoustic.’ Try the ‘Full Band Version.’”
Brahms himself never went to college, but
when he was twenty he spent one glorious summer
living in Grottingen with a friend who did.
Everything looks better from outside,
golden in lamplight. Brahms was no academic,
but he remembered those passionate bullshit sessions,
the argument, the laughter and the songs.
Especially the songs. So he chose a format,
formal, intricate, interweaving themes
and variations -- but those themes are drinking songs.
The faculty begins to twitch and fidget.
The kids grin, then begin to sing along.
Young Clapton began with climax and worked backward;
Brahms, being old, knew how to postpone pleasure
until, strings running up and down like squirrels,
permitting himself cymbals, the brass grabs you
by the hair and slams you on your feet
singing, whether you know the words or not,
“Gaudeamus Igatur,” “While we are young,
let us rejoice.” Let the faculty fume,
their egos cheated of glory. Let Clapton pluck
an unplugged tribute to his own lost youth.
Old Brahms blows out the back wall with the joy
of being young, then tops it with that note,
that smile concealed behind the big gray beard