Apart from his music, I know very little about Brahms:
a handsome youth, with unfulfilled love for
Clara Schumann, and perfect pitch.
There is a story that he was visiting a house;
he remembered the street name
and that the metal door scraper
sounded E flat but had forgotten
the number. A quick foray
up and down the street
settled the problem.
But this story is surely apocryphal:
why was he not arrested
for loitering with intent?
And do all metal door scrapers
play their own individual notes?
Anyway, the final story is true.
Brahms liked to compose
with the skull of Josef Haydn
The skull had undergone adventures.
Filched from its grave
by an eager phrenologist,
but scrupulously returned
to Vienna when the phrenologist died,
it had traveled far.
The story may not be apocryphal
but it still leaves questions hanging.
Was Brahms seeking inspiration
or a reminder of his own mortality?
Inspiration – a breathing in;
conspirators need to breathe together
in a small room; they would not shout
their messages of subversion
across a windy moor
where the words might be blown away
and blazoned across the sky.
Inspiration – of the air
but a skull is earthbound,
of the grave. Was Brahms hoping to gain
inspiration from Haydn
to compose a work that would rattle
his reluctant audience
their own mortality?
Nor does the story tell
what ultimately happened to the skull.
Did it join the body at Esterhazy?
But there had been a fraudulent skull
of an old man placed with Haydn’s body
which would then need to be removed
into the darkness of its own
Thank God, I need no skull on my desk.
The best of my poems seem to come from the air,
as if they are writing themselves;
and my illness offers its own