I wrote the lines below more than 25 years ago; but when I finally got around to putting them to music some months ago, what had seemed allusive and metaphorical – both the public overview and the personal intimations of mortality – had become all too real. It’s like the passage toward the end of Doctor Zhivago, when two survivors of revolution, famine, purge, camps and war are looking back:
“This has happened several times in the course of history. A thing which had been conceived in a lofty, ideal manner becomes coarse and material. Thus Rome came out of Greece and the Russian Revolution came out of the Russian enlightenment. Take that line of Blok’s: ‘We, the children of Russia’s terrible years.’ You can see the difference of period at once. In his time, when he said it, he meant it figuratively, metaphorically. The children were not children, but the sons, the heirs of the intelligentsia, and the terrors were not terrible but apocalyptic; that’s quite different. Now the figurative has become literal, the children are children and the terrors are terrible. There you have the difference.”
Anyway, those rough beasts once dimly perceived have not only come slouching, they’ve now emerged full-blown, ravenous and vivid. So when I ran across this sketch again while searching for something else, I thought it might be worth a brief re-visiting.
Have them play Shostakovich at my funeral:
Something grim, unnerving, hard to hum.
But make sure that you’re laughing in the background;
Be glad that I am quit of what’s to come.
For the destruction of the world is never-ending;
And just as tirelessly, creation rears.
This dark age is but an hour for apprehending
The trace left by a cold sweat-drop of fear.
A dozen beasts come slouching, a hundred prophets rise –
The timewheel, like a winepress, brings them forth.
The next two thousand years are here in incubation:
We are the forefathers, the ancient of the earth.
But I myself am standing in the morning of non-being,
Which has worn its way through me at last.
I’m taut with wild yielding to the mighty yawning
That swallows up the waters of the past.