Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
Today’s Music
By Robert McAlmon
From “The Via Dolorosa of Art”

HIS being started with decision,
Quick as a pair of highstrung horses given the rein,
When the orchestra’s music danced
With his impalpable sensual images.
It was wine-steam to drunken him—        5
Heavy, rhythmic, plucked gold petals of music,
Floating with sonorous etherealism about him.
He could not wait when it had ceased:
More could be heard on other nights.
Out to walk with his head amongst the stars,        10
With the sky standing straight before him,
He went, breathing the poignant night, drugged,
Knowing the moon was a diadem for his head.
And the slow sensuous ecstasies
Of music that his mind could not quite catch …        15
Only he was living … music …
Many times he had thought how sufficient life would be
Could a man dance the motion he feels,
And sing the songs within him.
But when your limbs fail you …        20
When your voice will not ascend…?
But tonight, he would make music,
Music that was virile and barbarous.
He could see electric threads of clipped blue
Dancing from positive to negative electric poles        25
In music.
He could hear color, movement, and noises.
He could see music that pictured the flow of generations
Into life—impetuous, rushing, gleaming with flesh and sunlight and darkness.
The shriek of maddened prehistoric brutes was in his ears—        30
They were waging battle to death, wading in blood,
Fighting for the preservation of their species,
Deep in the tangled forest.
The dissonances of many insects rasping shrilly,
The silence for moments of murderous insect warfare—        35
He could hear music that was a history of sound
Since the world began.
… the lighted city streets ran ahead of him
Like slender gold lizards basking in the moonlight….
So many years the moon, too well known,        40
Had irked him for being no exotic moon …
… tonight, he would compose music,
Free music, for the soul, the intellect—
Not honey in the listener’s ear:
The dolorous drip of harps,        45
The sob of bass violins,
Catgut moaning mindless sorrow.
He would write music, something of sweetness too:
The pipes of goat-herds on Athenian hills;
Slim girls chanting for religious ceremonies,        50
And dancing, love in their limbs where worship should be;
The clash of knights’ armor in tournament,
All coming to the climax of subways clamoring in tunnels.
And other sounds….
Far-away train whistles, fog’s-horn on the bay;        55
Aliens singing their native songs,
Hunched in drab haunts of a metropolis;
Chinese—discordant falsetto babblings,
Pale yellow notes descending in eighth tones….
He would write music … there would be no more loneliness        60
Of the soul for him. He would reach back through the ages,
Reach forth to the future for companions of his spirit,
And his music would touch them as with understanding hands.
He was through with themes and composition:
Only kaleidoscopic resoundings, playing upon the nerves,        65
Awakening the instinct memory of people
With their jeering, gentle, maniacal, forgiving heterogeneity.
Negroes would run, quick blood in their hearts,
As progenitors in Africa had run centuries ago—
Savages in a religious dance shrieking fear        70
At some demon’s wrath because storm and lightning
Has broken in upon their ceremonies;
The bellowing of a rhinoceros bull as he rushed
To gore the huntsman whose arrow had wounded him;
The trumpet of elephant herds stampeding, panic-stricken,        75
Through the forest, tearing aside small trees as they rush;
The rumble of bison hoofs beating endlessly over plains
With Indians whooping in pursuit of them:
… He would write music such that one would hear
The rush of the stream of life—        80
Music of evolution …
The sibilant hiss of snakes fading into
The flap of reptilian bird-wings …
The satin swish of sea-species leaving the waters
To go forth upon the land, prospering as land-beast        85
Or going toward extinction … music just the same …
Washed scarlet tones, high, persistent and dissonant.
He needed such music for the rhythm of his blood,
Such music for the vehement dance restrained within him …
A mad, wild dance … limbs breaking, bones cracking,        90
A dance hurtling the sky, a life dance.
He would make music … yes, such, such music.
He intended to make music.
And he turned at the corner near his boarding-house.
The same cats were making love in the same way        95
As they had made love for the three dull months of summer.
The same pastry-shop stood in front of him …
… the same dark room, the same gas-light in its grayness
Awaited him. He would make music … music of tedium too.
Yes, tomorrow, music … tonight—        100
He needed coffee and doughnuts, to sleep well—
And then … such music … tomorrow …

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