endless massing amethyst
between the spreading mist
and sprays of sun
choruses of final rain
nestled on liquescent clouds
of wind and skin
swaying bandstand crowds
lilting to the coming fall
of our endless night
like the edges of a squall
unnaturally bright
in the sudden calm
where breaking milling space
falls silent in the tranquil palms
and tone by tone
the evening graces climb
up past the blackened
pleadings of our crimes
and sins the sunsets drone
songs the ocean mimes
which swing and hang
above the rockbound bay
the frenzied rhyme
and cry of reef
drowned and combing
in the scattered rays
of the racing sky
echoed on the windowpanes
and peeling yellow
sun by the high
and brilliant chrome
the monstrous human haze
of our incandescent
broken home


Górecki’s Symphony No. 3, the “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs,” sets to music poems written under the stress of intense persecution. But it is the poem written in Kraków-Plaszów, the concentration camp in the Tatra mountains of Poland, which to me creates the mood throughout of planets floating forgivingly in their reassuring orbits around our immense passing execrations. In the brutal contrast between the achievement and the horror of humanity, faith is both lost and found. Matthew Arnold mentions in “Dover Beach” that:

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

The gassing and mutilation of poets and composers during World War I seemed to spell the end of reason’s influence on Europe. Even before it, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring had catalogued the cacophony of social chaos descending on the waltzing world. It was not until 1976 that the Polish composer Górecki found the forgiveness to frame the horrors of mankind in the solar wind of music, the endless resting chords of a void in which Buddhist acceptance coexists with silence.
Staring up at the terrifyingly uncaring but reassuringly beautiful clouds during Aspen’s last concert of the season on August 19, 2001, which featured both the Stravinsky and Górecki pieces, now performed with all the passion of retrospection by David Zinman and Dawn Upshaw, I wrote this poem. The president of the festival, Robert Harth, was leaving for Carnegie Hall, and everyone there, musicians and audience, would be leaving utopian Aspen for the possibly less real but more realistic world, so this last moment was suffused with passing and endings. The transience of both joy and sorrow wrenched the lawn from the pathetic fallacy we all treasure, the comforting thought that natural beauty is somehow a visual personification of our own spirit; in its place was something emptier, less easy, less reassuring, but vaster, as if the knowledge that beauty, truth, and reason were placebos, as if that knowledge could somehow free us to float like clouds in the uneven light of our own lives.
Robert Harth died a few years later in New York, apart from external events, but many Aspen people see any exile from the mountains as a kind of death.
As The Rite of Spring anticipated World War I, this poem anticipates the world which became visible to us shortly afterwards.