Ode to Joy


[Recent poem of mine just published in the Australian Poetry Journal 2.2 Art. Took the flower photo last summer. The ‘Pregnant Oyster’ in the first line of the poem was a local Berlin nickname (‘die schwangere Auster’) for the Kongresshalle. ‘Alle menschen werden Brueder’ translates as ‘all shall become brothers’, and ‘Freude, schoener Goetterfunken, Tochter aus Elysium’ translates as ”joy, beautiful divine spark, daughter of Elysium’, both lines are from the Schiller’s Ode to Joy in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The italicised ‘deeply sincere moments’ in the third last line are from Harriet Cunningham’s SMH review.]

Ode to Joy

Such resonance, for such a banal little tune.
– Harriet Cunningham on a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth (SMH 3/8/12)

First heard it live in the Pregnant Oyster,
Berlin 68, von yes-I-was-a-Nazi-but-
hey-that’s-showbiz Karajan conducting,
a New Year trad for the status-conscious
along with cuvee & caviar at twelve
in the walled city alive with self-
shooting contraptions, working class wit
& long-haired chants of Ho Chi Minh

Alle Menschen werden Brüder
keeping our dirty little human secret alive,
repressed itch for paradise & self-managed
sweat. Tiananmen & Chilean mothers
hymned it out loud against tanks, prisons
suppressing Pinochet’s live external costs.

Freude, schöner Götterfunken, Tochter aus Elysium,
five notes nested inside a cathedral of sound
deaf Beethoven never heard, still entranced,
thrashing his arms about in the surf-dark
silence after the orchestra stopped
as if knowing how history works,
his late work withdrawn into the whorled
intimacies of a chamber music loudly deaf

with dissonance & loss, yet also the Ninth
some bright other half of humanity’s dream
blindly struggling its hard-won way
to one of the most deeply sincere moments
in mad history’s music we’re all thrumming
like beginners but can never hear.


~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on December 9, 2012.

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