We’ve hung David’s La Vierge et Les Saintes
Near the piano. The companionable blessed
Surround the Virgin, her eyes are tolerant,
Dull with fulfillment. She is perfectly dressed,
Silk sleeves, green velvet gown, and jeweled cap;
Waves cascade down her back. Her Book of Hours,
Unlatched and lying open on her lap
Reveals white, distant, miniature towers
Against a sky of pure, medieval blue,
Rude peasants worshipping, broad fields of wheat
Beneath the sun, moon, stars. A courtly zoo
Feeds in the letters, magnified, ornate,
The lion, monkey, fox, and snakes twining
Around the words amuse her. She chooses not
To read just now, but touches her wedding ring,
And round her waist a gold rope in a knot.
From where she sits, her eyes rest on the keys,
Watching my hands at practice. She enjoys
Bach in Heaven, his sacred Fantasies
For her alone spin like fabulous toys.
Lines shift and break, she finds it rich and right,
Such music out of black dots on the page,
Symbols, the world a symbol from her height,
Great voices rising like smoke from time’s wreckage.
Bach, like an epoch, at his clavichord,
Paused listening, and shaking the great head
He watched his mind begin, pressing a chord.
Tonight he would compose. Upstairs in bed
Anna Magdalyn worried, one o’clock
And him so tired, straining the clouded eyes to
Blindness; blindly for hours the master shook
The notes like legible blood-drops onto
The page, Europe a small book in his palm,
Giants in history’s pages: ‘Study Bach,
There you’ll find everything.’ And he worked on,
His wife awoke the first on earth to hear
These silver lines beginning, plucked, revolved,
Unearthly trills spiraling up the stair,
The night dispelled, Leipzig itself dissolved,
And Paradise a figuring of air.
- Gjertrud Schnackenberg, from Portraits and Elegies