Welcome to this month’s poetry classroom, with poet and professor David Wright. We invite you to respond to the poems we’ll share here—their forms, images, sounds, meanings, surprises—ask questions of David and each other, and write your own poems along the way.
Four Sarabandes (excerpt)
Yo-Yo Ma (New York 1983 and Illinois 2004)
Forget all you’ve read about period tempo
about antique cellos about Cassals
and Rostropovich and begin wherever you like
this sound is no one’s
this sound is strung together
memory pressed to vinyl
Breathe now—then worry or regret
each pitch or trill you’ve practiced
or pitch you slide into or pause you forget
Surrender to Bach, or kill him if you must
as you play—it is safe here. It’s just me
in my car, twenty years later, twenty miles later,
holding my breath for us both.
Photo by Claire Burge. Used with permission. Poem by David Wright, author of A Liturgy for Stones.
1. Why do you think the poet asserts at the start: forget all you’ve read about… antique cellos, etc.?
2. We generally associate breathing with wind instruments. Why breathe now, when it’s a string instrument in question?
3. How would the musician’s outcomes potentially be different in “surrender” versus “killing” of the music handed down from the composer?
Browse poets and poems
Browse more music poems
- Poetry Classroom: Four Sarabandes—Yo-Yo Ma - September 30, 2013
- Poetry Classroom: Kansas - September 23, 2013
- Poetry Classroom: Iowa Tocatta - September 16, 2013
Bethany Rohde says
Cello is my favorite instrument. I like this idea of experiencing the music vs. banging out the notes obediently, one by one (which is one way I interpret “killing Bach”).
And what a lovely line:
“memory pressed to vinyl”