1. Basso Continuo
J.S. Bach and F.J. Haydn;
Wolfgang Amadeus, too …
Why was their music so serene,
those strings all soaring, right on cue?
They held almost a century
of Europe in a sort of stasis,
the airiness of metaphysics
stored inside the violin cases.
A war or two at the beginning
and something wilder at the end
but, in between, the great musicians
implied that borders would not bend,
that roads were free of all banditti,
that Voltaire had no fight with God.
They hoped their pasty dukes and princes
would keep on giving them the nod
as court composers, Kappellmeisters,
prodigies on harpsichord,
masters of the upward strings.
Their many masses praised the Lord
and also all the minor ones
whose powers the Christian one approved
Special trumpets sang their advents
and notably improved their mood
since patrons pay for reassurance.
One likes one’s age to be serene … as strings play on in
dreaming of the guillotine.
2. Il Stupendo
How inadequate they seem,
each purple-sheened superlative!
If one considers them too hard
they’ve clearly not got much to give.
‘Impressive’ means just ‘leaves a mark’,
a footprint on an empty beach;
‘Remarkable’ says very little;
‘remarks’ are hardly out of reach.
‘Notable’ does not quite do it—
I ‘note’ I’ve not done much today.
For ‘Stunning’ to become ‘Impressive’
it needs to wear a negligée.
‘Outstanding’ merely tells one how
the competition all fell short.
‘Brilliant’ is a trick of light,
evanescent as a thought.
‘Beautiful’ is ‘in the eye’;
‘Transcendent’ calls for disbelief.
‘Exemplary’ smells of discipline.
‘Eternal’ can be rather brief.
‘Prodigious’ comes from ‘prodigy’,
a small boy typing way too fast.
‘Perfect’ is impossible.
‘Sublime’ is heavy with its past.
With ‘Peerless’ and ‘Pre-eminent’
one needs to read the also-rans.
How wearying they’ve all become,
the bigger-, better-, bolder-thans!
Or so I am inclined to think.
Superlatives no longer sing—
though synonyms for ‘Mediocre’
are, of course, another thing.
Copyright Geoff Page 2011