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The rough and the smooth: Beethoven’s hands, cast in plaster, photographed c.1850 (© Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


                                    I
 
Rehearsing this quartet, Beethoven heard
Nothing at all. He checked the players by
Watching their bows. He barked the odd harsh word
But couldn’t hear that either, and yet I
Am blissed out once again by what he found
When searching in his world without a sound
There, near the end. The Ninth was done. To die
 
Was really all the man had left to do,
And yet he did this. In our time apart,
Grand opera was what most appealed to you,
But now I hope that you may take to heart
This music without voices, which in fact
Is singing in its essence, the contact
Of Earth with Heaven in a surf of art
 
Whose forms diversify and fractionate
Past all our expectations except one:
What happens next will be well worth the wait
And prove a burst of beauty was begun
Far back, the way the upsurge of the sun
Is written in the stars.
 
                                    II
 
I love this bit, this bit I love. Bit this,
Bit that. Fragments advance. Collect. Go back.
These pizzicato figures you can fit
Short words of Shakespeare to. Alas, alack,
To smooth. That rough. Touch with. A tender kiss.
Enough of that. This is the end of it.
Too smooth. Examine that word “soothe”:
It’s so, oh, the. The flexing female foot,
Touched underneath by a male fingernail,
Signals approval of a cruel finesse.
Suave harshness. Harshly suave. Again. Stop go.
Of that which is desired, too much.
Of that which is desired too much, no end.
But soft, she stirs. Be not at fault. Go slow.
A cliff of dissonance grinds to a halt
And turns to snowflakes on a windless night
That fall past the streetlight.
 
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