Friday

May 1, 2009

Music

by Anne Porter

When I was a child
I once sat sobbing on the floor
Beside my mother's piano
As she played and sang
For there was in her singing
A shy yet solemn glory
My smallness could not hold

And when I was asked
Why I was crying
I had no words for it
I only shook my head
And went on crying

Why is it that music
At its most beautiful
Opens a wound in us
An ache a desolation
Deep as a homesickness
For some far-off
And half-forgotten country

I've never understood
Why this is so

Bur there's an ancient legend
From the other side of the world
That gives away the secret
Of this mysterious sorrow

For centuries on centuries
We have been wandering
But we were made for Paradise
As deer for the forest

And when music comes to us
With its heavenly beauty
It brings us desolation
For when we hear it
We half remember
That lost native country

We dimly remember the fields
Their fragrant windswept clover
The birdsongs in the orchards
The wild white violets in the moss
By the transparent streams

And shining at the heart of it
Is the longed-for beauty
Of the One who waits for us
Who will always wait for us
In those radiant meadows

Yet also came to live with us
And wanders where we wander.

"Music" by Anne Porter from Living Things: Collected Poems. © Steerforth Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is May Day, a holiday with its roots in the fertility celebrations of pre-Christian Europe. At Oxford University, otherwise intelligent young scholars jump off the Magdalen Bridge into a section of the Cherwell River that is two feet deep. At St. Andrews in Scotland, students gather on the beach the night before May Day, build bonfires, and then at sunrise they run into the very cold North Sea, some of them without any clothes on. There are bonfires and revelry in rural Germany. And there's hula dancing to the "May Day is Lei Day" song in Hawaii. In Minneapolis, there's the May Day Parade that marches south down Bloomington Avenue. It's organized by the In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, now in its 35th year and attracting about 35,000 people.

May Day is also Labor Day for much of the world, a day to commemorate the economic and social improvements of workers, like the eight-hour workday. It evolved from the 1886 Haymarket Square riots, so in the United States, President Cleveland moved Labor Day to September to disassociate it with the radical left. In 1958, U.S. Congress under Eisenhower proclaimed May 1 "Loyalty Day" and also "Law Day" — two holidays that have not caught on. May Day is still a prominent holiday in communist countries like Cuba and the People's Republic of China. Two years ago, a May Day rally in Los Angeles in support of illegal immigrants turned into the L.A. May Day Mêlée after police fired rubber bullets into a crowd of demonstrators they had ordered to disperse.

Incidentally, the international distress signal code word "Mayday" has nothing to do with May 1st. It's actually derived from the French m'aider,meaning, come help me.

F. Scott Fitzgerald (books by this author) wrote a novelette entitled "May Day," which appeared in 1920.

And it's the birthday of Joseph Heller, (books by this author) born in Brooklyn, New York (1923), the man who wrote Catch-22 (1961).

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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