Friday, July 24, 2009

Born Too Late

Last night at the Colorado Music Festival’s series of the world’s greatest piano concertos, I heard 21-year-old Natasha Paremski play Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18. The second half of the program was Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, his last major work. According to the program notes, Rachmaninoff wrote little in the last decades of his life; although he died in 1943, his was the passionate, romantic music of the 19th century, not the cerebral, avant-garde music of his contemporaries. He lived quietly in Beverly Hills, where he sometimes played two-piano arrangements of his work with his neighbor, Vladimir Horowitz. It would have been fun to hear that music drifting out over the neighborhood, no?

Sometimes I think that I, too, was born too late, or maybe, just that I’m stuck in an earlier literary era. I reread the children’s books of my childhood over and over again; the year I was a judge of the National Book Award in the category of Literature for Young People, I helped the award to go to the decidedly (and wonderfully) old-fashioned The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall. Even though I love Mary Oliver as much as everybody else, my favorite poets are still Edna St. Vincent Millay, Christina Rosetti, and Sara Teasdale. Theirs are the poems I can – and do - recite by heart.

I write a poem now every Wednesday, free verse (though often with one rhyme that I can’t resist coming at the very end). But I haven’t written anything that I think is as good as the Sara-Teasdale-inspired poems I wrote in my youth, almost all songs of unrequited fourteen-year-old love.

Here’s one, dated October 3, 1968.

The leaves are bruised with scarlet,
The sky is seared with blue,
The hills are wrung in purple,
The grass is weeping dew –
To live with all that agony,
They must have loved you, too.

If only I had been born in 1880, what a poet I might have become!

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