im abendrot

In orchestra recently we have been working on Strauss’ Four Last Songs, for soprano and orchestra. The words sung by the soprano are poems. Herman Hesse, a German-Swiss poet who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1946, supplied the first three. The final song, “Im Abendrot” is a poem from an earlier German romantic writer named Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff (1788-1857). While all of the songs have a grandeur to them, “Im Abendrot” in particular draws my imagination out to explore.

I don’t speak or understand German, so my initial impression of the song was based purely on the melody of the soprano line and the orchestral accompaniment. Actually, my initial impression came from our orchestra’s first rehearsal of the song, without the soprano at all. After several weeks of playing it in orchestra, “Im Abendrot” had furrowed into my brain. I finally looked it up on Youtube to find recordings of it by many sopranos, including Renee Fleming, Kiri Te Kanawa, and Jessye Norman. After listening to a couple of recordings I looked up the lyrics.

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#29 (with you)

bend oh bend my child
hear my will and bow
beneath the clouds of Seattle
for I am with you now

remember who I made you
remember your birth mark
the stamp of love I gave you
the flick’ring crimson spark

find rest in me my child
I’ll hold you in the night
beneath the clouds of Seattle
and watch your dreams alight

In a Tree

The winter earth resisted as I jabbed it with a spade, intent on planting in it a seed I found in my pants pocket. I dig a hole, just inches deep—a frigid little grave—and placed in it the seed I found and covered it with dirt and snow. I didn’t think that it would grow.

A year passed and I saw something poking through the snow. Skeletal and drooping low, a sprout was growing from the place I left the seed. Bending down I saw its leaves, pale, ivory things. I thought it best to leave it there, unhindered by my nurturing hands that tend to not really be of much use in a garden.

The sapling grew for twenty years into a pale tree that bore no fruit that I could see hanging from its branches. In fact, it seemed completely dead through seemingly alive. Its leaves were but veins without any formal shape. Its branches sagged like party streamers dampened by the fog that settles in the night after a party.

No birds ever stopped to rest between its branches. No squirrels scampered round its trunk. Dogs looking for a place to lift their legs always passed it by. I saw a sky-grey cat staring at it once, but that was only once.

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I just stood up from the table abruptly
after reading some Billy Collins with Bubba,
and the upward/forward motion of my torso
caused me to cough violently. I don’t know why.
Ten seconds or so of the kind of cough that
warms the forehead as you feel blood running
to your face and pressure building between
that forehead and the top of your cranium.
Along with this bizarre sensation came a memory
of Meg from my days at Catholic elementary school.
Meg, an Irish girl, whose cheeks were flushed
with bright crimson sparks of facial fireworks.
She said that these were actually blood vessels
broken by… actually I forget her explanation,
but it made sense to my 10 year old self
who would’ve killed to have some of my own.
For, as I met more Irish people—and descendants
of Irish people—I realized that these cheeks
were more of a defining trait than anything my
Gerwelshwedeslavscotswinglish roots gave me. Continue reading