Swann Song

Swann Song

Why does that
Just-invented melody
Of yours
Become now mine
So suddenly,
Repeating incessantly
In mind
From thin air
Acting now
Like it was always there,
A moment grown momentous?

Why does my
Just-imagined question
Become their question for eternity?
(Nods toward posterity,
Meekly waiting.)

So few words and notes
Compose these countless
Songs and quotes;

Infinity entrapped
Within memento mori.
Both seek Arcadian escape
From grave eternity:

Tom’s love in Texas,
Ended yesterday,
The unstruck bell of swans,
A theme song from
The Crown Affair,
A song of Solomon,
Time’s moving image of eternity,
Locked within my breast.
Yet I shall never see
The start or end.

We say Amen
But seek a way to mend
That right which seems so wrong.

A Proust humming
Phalaris’ Inventions.

– Sitaram



Something like a melody or a philosophical question springs into being at some moment in time, but then becomes timeless, perennial, and also very familiar and commonplace, as if we could not imagine existence without it.

There are such a small number of musical tones in the scales, and a finite number of words in the dictionary of any language, yet the potential for new compositions seems limitless.

A “memento mori” is often a skull. Infinity is trapped in our skulls, in our consciousness. The mention of “Arcadia” alludes to “Et in Arcadia ego” which is Death saying “I am even in this place”, a phrase used by Evelyn Waugh to name the first part of “Brideshead Revisited.”

I make reference to the first page of Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward, Angel” where he writes “Each of us is all the sums he has not counted: subtract us into nakedness and night again, and you shall see begin in Crete four thousand years ago the love that ended yesterday in Texas.”

The “unstruck bell” is a term which denotes our internalized concept of the sound of a struck bell. The term is used in describing the result of years of mantra practice or prayer repetition, where the prayer becomes “prayer of the heart,” internalized, automatic, like some melody which we can no longer escape, now become a pattern in our metabolism.

I mention “Tom’s love” and “The Crown Affair” which is really “The Thomas Crown Affair.”

The theme song from “The Thomas Crown Affair”.

(start of lyrics, with repeated stanzas omitted)

Windmills of Your Mind Lyrics

Round, like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel.
Never ending or beginning,
On an ever spinning wheel
Like a snowball down a mountain
Or a carnival balloon
Like a carousel that’s turning
Running rings around the moon

Like a clock whose hands are sweeping
Past the minutes on it’s face
And the world is like an apple
Whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind

Like a tunnel that you follow
To a tunnel of it’s own
Down a hollow to a cavern
Where the sun has never shone
Like a door that keeps revolving
In a half forgotten dream
Or the ripples from a pebble
Someone tosses in a stream.

Keys that jingle in your pocket
Words that jangle your head
Why did summer go so quickly
Was it something that I said
Lovers walking along the shore,
Leave their footprints in the sand
Was the sound of distant drumming
Just the fingers of your hand

Pictures hanging in a hallway
And a fragment of this song
Half remembered names and faces
But to whom do they belong
When you knew that it was over
Were you suddenly aware
That the autumn leaves were turning
To the color of her hair

(end of lyrics)

Plato, in the dialogue “Timaeus”, describes time as “the moving image of eternity.”

Many, of course, will be familiar with the “Song of Solomon.”

We read, elsewhere in the writings attributed to Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 3:11:

He [God] has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.

So, there is something infinite enclosed in something finite (the skull or heart) trying to get out, in fact, constantly getting out, escaping, in the form of artistic expression, mathematical discovery and scientific invention. Since we are “created” in this fashion, it is “right” (i.e. correct) and it is also our “right” or privilege to participate in this intellectual activity, yet, because we suffer in the process, it “seems wrong”, a wrong which we try to “mend”, since a part of us does not want to be the way we are, tormented if we do not succeed in creating something immortal, and also, tormented when we do succeed. Our task is sisyphean. We are, as Robert Frost once said, “immortally wounded.”

Diapsalmatta is the word Kierkegaard uses just before he likens the “music” of an artist to the bull of Phalaris, mentioned in Dante’s Inferno.

The Diapsalmata (meaning refrains or repetition) is a collection of short sayings or aphorisms

What is a poet? An unhappy man who conceals profound anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so fashioned that when sighs and groans pass over them they sound like beautiful music. His fate resembles that of the unhappy men who were slowly roasted by a gentle fire in the tyrant Phalaris’ bull—their shrieks could not reach his ear to terrify him, to him they sounded like sweet music. And people flock about the poet and say to him: do sing again; Which means, would that new sufferings tormented your soul, and: would that your lips stayed fashioned as before, for your cries would only terrify us, but your music is delightful. And the critics join them, saying: well done, thus must it be according to the laws of aesthetics. Why, to be sure, a critic resembles a poet as one pea another, the only difference being that he has no anguish in his heart and no music on his lips. Behold, therefore would I rather be a swineherd on Amager,2 and be understood by the swine than a poet, and misunderstood by men.

The phrase “Phalaris Inventions” reminds us of “Bach’s Inventions”.

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