Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Borodin - Donald Revell

When the world was loveliness I was
A composer, Borodin, my left eye
Level with the floor beside toy men.
Wild work and havoc they made,
Being glad.  I could draw a line
Would run straight through the minds of men,
Being a sociable angel,
Music before and after, blushing.

Heaven is a nonsense entirely sensible.
I was a child on the floor beside you,
Making music, becoming small in the rosy
Embrace of God's best messenger.
I loved your havoc and your hair.

Continuing with my musical theme this week is a poem from Donald Revell, which takes its name from Alexander Borodin, a Russian Romantic composer.  Borodin's music is famed for its sweeping melodies, lyricism, and thick, rich harmonies.  In this poem, I think I see some of those elements in the images of play war and Heaven.  Let's unpack some of those images!

The narrator of this poem imagines himself as a child, a boy Borodin, playing with toy men.  They made "wild work and havoc" which I interpret as a war-like image.  It's the image of life happening all at once, and it is the business of "being glad."  That is both the business of the child playing with the toys and the imagined business of those toys themselves.  "I could draw a line/ Would run straight through the minds of men" to me is talking about the power the manipulator has in this situation.

That image of manipulation is then tied to music, a "sociable angel."  Music can run straight through the mind and make us feel and experience a great many things.  Music is referred to in the second stanza as "God's best messenger" and I think this is appropriate.  There's a sort of deep piety associated with the act of making music.  Making music here is an act of love, religious love.  It is "havoc."  I do not know whose hair Revell loved, but I see it like a child watching their father or mother work, being mystified by the work, but loving it, and loving everything about that figure, right down to the hair.

For your enjoyment, the exciting and sweeping symphony no 2 of Alexander Borodin.

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