“Berlioz” by Lee Sharkey

Lee Sharkey


Now let us praise Hector Berlioz
who found himself one night composing
a symphony as he slept who woke
lucid remembering the entire
first movement in A minor he could
have sat down at his desk and begun
transcribing as during the first hours
after a great destruction we see
in detail each small thing that was lost
as after my house went up in flames
carrying with them all of my poems
I sat on a mattress on a cold
floor and began to reconstruct them
found I could remember all of them
if only the night were long enough
but Berlioz willed himself not to
pick up his pen his wife was ill if
he wrote the first notes he knew himself
too well for months nothing would exist
except poured silver he would not write
the articles that sustained them how
would he pay for her medicine how
would he buy food he willed himself not
to pick up the pen yet the next night
the symphony visited him once
more it called him to service it called
him to adoration it took all
his strength to lie back down until he
finally fell asleep and the spurned
muse left him just as I fell asleep
laying my head on my journal and
the poems I had not transcribed left me
with only my child and my mate and
the spring where I knelt and chopped through ice
to draw the blessing of water let
us praise Berlioz for his unsung
symphony of medicine and bread

from Rattle #32, Winter 2009

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Lee Sharkey: “The immediate trigger for ‘Berlioz’ was a brief account in Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia of Berlioz’s turning down the muse. I was struck by the parallels with my own experience of lucid memory—a house fire that devoured among other things seventeen years of my writing, my books, my child’s drawings, and my dog—and that earlier, involuntary loss became the emotional driver of the poem. The first line came to me, announcing its rhythm, and I knew from the start that ‘Berlioz’ would be written in syllabics.” (website)

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