If I could play like this, I’d never stand up.
Johann Sebastian Bach, Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor, Prelude; Eva Lymenstull (baroque cello), 2017
I like this story from the N.Y. Times—a composition by a child in the third grade: ‘I told my little brother that when you die you cannot breathe and he did not say a word. He just kept on playing.’
—Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), Letter to Robert Lowell, September 8, 1948
sounds of Mali
Salif Keita, live, Germany (Stuttgart), 1995
[C]ommunication is an undependable but sometimes marvelous thing.
—Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), letter to Randall Jarrell, December 26, 1955
sounds of Mali
Salif Keita, live, London, c. 2002
What one seems to want in art, in experiencing it, is the same thing that is necessary for its creation, a self-forgetful, perfectly useless concentration.
—Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), letter
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), Piano Concerto No. 26 in D major (“Coronation”); Munich Philharmonic Orchestra with Friedrich Gulda (conducting, piano), live, 1986
How I wish I’d been a painter . . . that must really be the best profession—none of this fiddling around with words—there are a couple of Daumiers at the Phillips that make me feel my whole life has been wasted.
—Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), letter, 1977
tonight in Chicago
These guys, from Australia, are playing at Constellation.
The Necks, live, London, 2016
The Imaginary Iceberg
by Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)
We’d rather have the iceberg than the ship,
although it meant the end of travel.
Although it stood stock-still like cloudy rock
and all the sea were moving marble.
We’d rather have the iceberg than the ship;
we’d rather own this breathing plain of snow
though the ship’s sails were laid upon the sea
as the snow lies undissolved upon the water.
O solemn, floating field,
are you aware an iceberg takes repose
with you, and when it wakes may pasture on your snows?
This is a scene a sailor’d give his eyes for.
The ship’s ignored. The iceberg rises
and sinks again; its glassy pinnacles
correct elliptics in the sky.
This is a scene where he who treads the boards
is artlessly rhetorical. The curtain
is light enough to rise on finest ropes
that airy twists of snow provide.
The wits of these white peaks
spar with the sun. Its weight the iceberg dares
upon a shifting stage and stands and stares.
The iceberg cuts its facets from within.
Like jewelry from a grave
it saves itself perpetually and adorns
only itself, perhaps the snows
which so surprise us lying on the sea.
Good-bye, we say, good-bye, the ship steers off
where waves give in to one another’s waves
and clouds run in a warmer sky.
Icebergs behoove the soul
(both being self-made from elements least visible)
to see them so: fleshed, fair, erected indivisible.
not the same old stuff
Maja S. K. Ratkje, live (performance begins at 1:30), Norway (Kristiansand), 2013
Happy (106th) Birthday, Elizabeth
From the few states I have seen I should now immediately select Florida as my favorite. I don’t know whether you have been here or not—it is so wild, and what there is of cultivation seems rather dilapidated and about to become wild again. On the way down we took a very slow train from Jacksonville here. All day long it went through swamps and turpentine camps and palm forests and in a beautiful pink evening it began stopping at several little stations. The stations were all off at a tangent from the main track and it necessitated first going by, then stopping, backing up, stopping, starting again—with many puffs of white smoke, blowing of the whistle, advice from the loiterers around the station—all to throw off one limp bag of mail.
—Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), letter to Marianne Moore, January 5, 1937
If I could dance like this, I’d never sit down.
Jimmy Slyde (1927-2008) and Bob Moses, dancing, playing, talking
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
—Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), “One Art”
Frederic Chopin (1810-1849), Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor; Martha Argerich, live, 1966
It is like what we imagine knowledge to be . . .
—Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), from “At the Fishhouses”
sounds of Argentina
Juana Molina, live (studio performance), Seattle, 2014
reading table: two takes
by Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)
Land lies in water; it is shadowed green.
Shadows, or are they shallows, at its edges
showing the line of long sea-weeded ledges
where weeds hang to the simple blue from green.
Or does the land lean down to lift the sea from under,
drawing it unperturbed around itself?
Along the fine tan sandy shelf
is the land tugging at the sea from under?
The shadow of Newfoundland lies flat and still.
Labrador’s yellow, where the moony Eskimo
has oiled it. We can stroke these lovely bays,
under a glass as if they were expected to blossom,
or as if to provide a clean cage for invisible fish.
The names of seashore towns run out to sea,
the names of cities cross the neighboring mountains
—the printer here experiencing the same excitement
as when emotion too far exceeds its cause.
These peninsulas take the water between thumb and finger
like women feeling for the smoothness of yard-goods.
Mapped waters are more quiet than the land is,
lending the land their waves’ own conformation:
and Norway’s hare runs south in agitation,
profiles investigate the sea, where land is.
Are they assigned, or can the countries pick their colors?
—What suits the character or the native waters best.
Topography displays no favorites; North’s as near as West.
More delicate than the historians’ are the map-makers’ colors.
by Wislawa Szymborska (1923-2012, MCOTD Hall of Fame; translated from Polish by Clare Cavanagh)
Flat as the table
it’s placed on.
Nothing moves beneath it
and it seeks no outlet.
Above—my human breath
creates no stirring air
and leaves its total surface
Its plains, valleys are always green,
uplands, mountains are yellow and brown,
while seas, oceans remain a kindly blue
beside the tattered shores.
Everything here is small, near, accessible.
I can press volcanoes with my fingertip,
stroke the poles without thick mittens,
I can with a single glance
encompass every desert
with the river lying just beside it.
A few trees stand for ancient forests,
you couldn’t lose your way among them.
In the east and west,
above and below the equator—
quiet like pins dropping,
and in every black pinprick
people keep on living.
Mass graves and sudden ruins
are out of the picture.
Nations’ borders are barely visible
as if they wavered—to be or not.
I like maps, because they lie.
Because they give no access to the vicious truth.
Because great-heartedly, good-naturedly
they spread before me a world
not of this world.