Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE VIOLIN'S ENCHANTRESS, by WILLIAM ROSE BENET

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE VIOLIN'S ENCHANTRESS, by                 Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography
First Line: A ripple of light applause. We see her stand
Last Line: Knows how those living echoes linger on!
Subject(s): Violins

A ripple of light applause. We see her stand
Smiling. And now one slim expressive hand
Raises the lithe, long bow
That swiftly dips and swirls.
The clear allegro purls
Welling and welling from awakened strings, --
Welling and spreading to an overflow
Of first sweet jubilance. The lustrous pine,
Cherished against the softness of her cheek
Thrills 'twixt her breast and arm
And gaily, purely sings, --
Brilliantly seems to speak
In syllables divine, --
More animate as her fervor grows more warm.

And ere she holds us bound,
Just a delicious, graceful girl she seems;
Now, as the prelude pauses,
Just a slim, eager sprite in silver gauzes;
Then those not blind to see
And understand her dreams
May note the exquisite maternity
Of gentle throat and breast and downcast eyes, --
The fostering, brooding tenderness enwound
With this strange changeling child, her violin, --
And hear an infant's small and plaintive cries
Quaver and sob within
Those first bright waves of sound.

Faintly our hearts reply. Not yet the stress
Of deep emotion bids them throb and burn.
Mere melody's enchantments are to learn, --
Subtle gradations, wonder-fraught finesse,
Tone-colors, cadences, -- not yet that change
To tone magnificence and deeper storms
Of sound, whence notes like vivid lightnings leap,
Transmuting thoughts fit for the organ's sweep
Of spacious fugal forms
To these taut strings, since Bach enlarged their range.
Not yet the depth and height; the passionate psalms
Dreamed nightly by the valiant brain of Brahms.

Yet what expression, -- what a sorcery
Of rhythmic intonations,
Pyrotechnic pizzicatos, modulations,
Exhaustless fluency
Weaving and interweaving!
Oh, darkly yet, but darkly understood
Is this miraculous instrument's conceiving!
O'er the elastic and tenacious wood
Did not the Mantuan brood, --
Deft Piedmontese, Lombard lute-fashioners,
Cremona's Andreas, and Antonio,
Parisians tapering their master's bow,
Guiseppe Guarnieri, Stradivar, --
(Craftsmen immortal as their smooth names are!)
Through them this music climbs aerial stairs,
Through them thou soarest, heart, tonight -- tonight.
Whither their vision with her vision fares
This girl's glad heart takes flight
Tonight, tonight! --
The girl of gauzes still
Mothering to her will
The wizard curves from which such glory springs.
Her right arm swirls. Her left hand plucks the strings,
Her delicate fingers move in light alarm.
Leaning and cherishing,
Fifth by pure fifth each string
Sings to her heart's young ecstasy, swept by her swirling arm.

Then, as the rhythm enlarges to the sweep
Of her white arm's full arc,
Deeper and deeper dark
Descends upon our souls. Such portents as in sleep
Baffle its calm dominion with weird dreams
Now murmur to us from some mysterious steep
Of Delphi or Dodona. Caverned far
In the vast mountainside, where neither sun nor star
May reach with hallowed ray or rosy light,
But all is dreadful night,
The incantations of Time's priestess sound
Where, from the smoking fissures of the ground
Beneath her tripod, mount in fuming vapor
Ghosts of all tears and laughter, joy and sin, --
The vanished hour, the hope that might have been.
Pythia and oracle their phantoms shape her,
Scattering our destinies like leaves. And round her
A midnight of deep notes grows still profounder.

Dumb sorrow bows us down, -- when suddenly
Our darkness bursts to day!
Uprushing wings, buoyed on ecstasy,
Storm past our eyes -- an archangelic flight
Mounting to height on height,
Thronging the infinite, whither they fade away.
Beneath us, as above,
Glow golden heavens of love
Throbbing the thoughts of God like muffled thunder,
Till sense is lost in vision, drowned in wonder.

Then faintly, as from leagues below our sky,
Pleads a far-penetrating human cry,
Rises a long-familiar earth-born strain
Our hearts may not deny;
And, in a rush of rapture and of pain,
The soul has found its fleshly home again.

Aye, Circe of sound, once more against a white
Vista of quivering light,
From a carved resonant case of lustrous pine
Of purest curves divine
Whose grace created Hogarth's famous line, --
From tremoring sound-post, ebon finger-board,
Your sinuous bow draws forth a deepening wail
Older than sun-strung lyre, Arabian monochord,
Rebec of wassail or lute of troubadour!
Hark to the heart-wrung wail,
Creation's oldest tale!
Drawn from that smooth-shaped and harmonic chamber
Of warm and deep-hued amber?
Nay! As in Eden the first man's heartstrings thrilled
Swept by the hand of God to life and love,
When the fresh-glowing heavens their dawn fulfilled,
From the rich primal passion of Man they pour
And soar above, --
Those pleading notes, that wane and flame and wane
Like sun-birds wounded, glorying in their pain!
Here trees that sang through age-long stress and strain
Reach immortality. The forest's sighing
Is prisoned forever in the wood it gave,
But Man matured the music it must crave, --
And this is Man's deep, inmost heart replying!

Man's inmost heart, so secret from the brain
In its strange agonies of joy and pain,
Only in music wholly may reveal
The deep faith that never dies, the deep wounds that never heal,
Since Jubal of the tribe of Cain,
One sacred evening in the land of Nod,
Flamed on the charm. The boy through sunset trod
Wielding his rude-hewn lyre of bone and horn
To awe his tribe unto their souls reborn
And strike them silent with the speech of God.

And with what glorious myth the centuries
Have fed this vestal fire unfalteringly! --
The Sun-god's power; the spouse of Niobe
(He whom the very stones of Thebes obeyed);
Arion, dolphin-borne across the sea;
David's wild harp, and Memnon's vocal stone;
Cecilia, when her saintly fingers laid
Inspired Heaven upon our earthly keys,
And sounded forth the angels' secrecies
Meant but for Heaven alone!

Oh, covenant of peace, --
Oh, light where shadows cease, --
Oh, art transcending all our human arts!
At last thy message seems
(Break not the faith of dreams!)
That here is surcease for our burdened hearts;
That here is concord 'twixt our darkened Earth
And some sure Heaven above,
Earth as our instrument, our Viol of Love,
And we like to those sympathetic wires
Laid 'neath its finger-board -- as men have said
Man's own invention laid
Consonant strings, in music's first rebirth;
And when their joy requires
What divine fingers sweep Heaven's chords in trance,
That we, by consonance,
Answer beneath the sky that bounds our breath, --
Answer beneath this shell of life and death?
Oh, truth in dreams, -- oh, prayer of stricken hearts, --
The Viol and its parts
Mingling in music, as this music saith!

Yet still the child, the girl, lost in the wide
High spaces of a hall, that seems to grow
Greater than we may know,
Sounds her sweet soul forgetful, starry-eyed;
Against her well-loved music leans her cheek,
Soft curve to tender curve, -- against the sleek
Resonant wood of a dead-living thing
Nestles her shoulder, whips the swirling bow.

Murmuring streams of joy, your waters flow
How clear from cool rock-springs of restfulness,
Winding through woodland green where wild birds call
To drop in many a silvern waterfall! . . .
Slower and yet more slow
The enchanting cadence chimes. . . . Then, the accelerate stress:
Passionate, passionate in their soaring pride, --
Wailful, and by their sorrow deified, --
Toward the magnificent summit of song they strain,
Those last wild notes of perfect purity.
That height they gain
Still mounting on and on . . . till a swift-rushing rain
Of as pure notes -- or echoes -- showers upon us all.
Deep breathing holds the hall;
And we have guessed not that the girl is gone;
For only harmony, -- God who is harmony, --
Knows how those living echoes linger on!

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