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Sean Rafferty presents a selection of music and guests from the arts world.

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Poems about the music of Bach

The Aftertaste of Bitterness

The roof slopes steeply:
I am listening to Bach, the St John Passion: I live,
the pleasures of love enjoying, and thou
art dying. How the attic space
has grown luxurious with the music, oboe

d'amore, a thunder-storm, a dulcet
rending of the heart in sorrow; and I fill,
if only for a moment, with
transcendental energy. Clouds
through the skylight window shift, reform,

there falls a huge knocking on the glass
from the opened sky. Peter's
ham-fisted attempt at violence, the swung
sword; then the music of healing, the forgiving
hand. And what is truth? I'm drawn away

by mating-shouts of pheasants
In the high grass outside. Bach's slow chorales
lift the soul, through time, out
beyond time, till the music tells how death
is the perfect state of innocence.

By John F. Deane
From The Instruments of Art , Carcanet 2005

If Bach had been a beekeeper

If Bach had been a beekeeper
he would have heard
all those notes
suspended above one another
in the air of his ear
as the differentiated swarm returning
to the exact hive
and place in the hive,
topping up the cells
with the honey of C major,
food for the listening generations,
key to their comfort
and solace of their distress
as they return and return
to those counterpointed levels
of hovering wings where
movement is dance
and the air itself
a scented garden

By Charles Tomlinson
From Skywriting , Carcanet (2003)

The Stillness of the World before Bach

There must have been a world before
the Trio Sonata in D, a world before the A minor Partita,
but what kind of a world?
A Europe of vast empty spaces, unresounding,
everywhere unawakened instruments
where the Musical Offering, the Well-tempered Clavier
never passed across the keys.
Isolated churches
where the soprano-line of the Passion
never in helpless love twined round
the gentler movements of the flute,
broad soft landscapes
where nothing breaks the stillness
but old woodcutters' axes,
the healthy barking of strong dogs in winter
and, like a bell, skates biting into fresh ice;
the swallows whirring through summer air,
the shell resounding at the child's ear
and nowhere Bach nowhere Bach
the world in a skater's silence before Bach.

By Lars Gustafsson

At Ogmore-by-Sea This August Evening

I think of one who loved this estuary -
my father - who, self-taught, scraped upon
an obstinate violin. Now, in a room
darker than the darkening evening outside,
I choose a solemn record, listen to
a violinist inhabit a Bach partita.
This violinist and violin are unified

Such power! The music summons night. What more?
It's twenty minutes later into August
before the gaudy sun sinks to Australia
Now nearer than the promontory paw
and wincing electric of Porthcawl
Look! the death-boat, black as anthracite,
at its spotlit prow a pale familiar.

Father? Here I am, Father. I see you
jubilantly lit, an ordered carnival.
The tide's in. From Nash Point no foghorns howl.
I'm at your favourite place where once you held
a bending rod and taught me how to bait
the ragworm hooks. Here, Father, here, tonight
we'll catch a bass or two, or dabs, or cod.

Senseless conjuration! I wipe my smile away
for now, lit at the prow, not my father
but his skeleton stands. The spotlight fails,
the occult boat's a smudge while three far lighthouses
converse in dotty exclamation marks.
The ciaccona's over, the record played,
there's nothing but the tumult of the sea.

By Danny Abse,
From New and Collected Poems , (Hutchinson 2003)

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