Bach Dying :: Poetry Friday

found this in The Musical Life: Reflections on What It Is and How to Live it by W.A. Mathieu. it’s the first thing i opened to, and if it’s any indication i just might like this book. along with Never Too Late by John Holt, Mathieu’s Listening Book is the one i always talk about when i talk about music. like so many good things in my life, Grace Llewellyn first put me on his trail. listen, won’t you.

Bach Dying
by W.A. Mathieu

Sitting up in bed, benign, blind,
an old organ chorale running through his brain
he is dictating revision to his son in law.
Lord, When We Are in Direst Need
has yielded to Before Thy Throne I Offer This.
“G natural in the tenor, now in the soprano D,
dotted, and in the alto…
That’s enough. Come back tomorrow.
Same time.” He leans back and dismisses
with a wave his seeing eyes, his writing hand.

He is alone now, and let’s just say this:
Gabriel has not arrived. God is a day’s journey.
Sebastian is about to have another little stroke–
only a moment of clear hearing left.
At the foot of his bed an old serf
dressed for the fields is revealed holding a flute
and searching Bach’s face for a sign.
Bach can suddenly see the man’s eyes!
He loosens, strangely content, very tired.
“Play some simple music,” he says but then
there’s a hazy whoosh: finally, too much
blood in Bach’s brain.

Or this (no one knows anyway):
Bach wakes up and sees a very young man,
limbs heaved into the bedside chair, composing
a love ballad. His passion makes a puppet
of him and his flung hand barely strokes
a string on the lute in his lap.
It is the same G of the tenor, an offhand
twang that rides out the window
and up into white glare.

The day I read that when Bach died
he had eleven shirts in the laundry
was the day I began to hear him
enough to learn him. Jesus breathed
and sweated. Bach got his shirts dirty.
It wasn’t the Passion of St Matthew
or some hymn lifted through the diapason
that he went out on, but the chance note
of the young lover he had been, a G,
midrange, that I could learn to sing.

other poetry goodness can be found at the Wild Rose Reader!


  1. so it turns out i am not musical at all. my enthusiasm and curiosity were 1%. 🙂 and lets not talk about the tests.

    I think I need a musical education.

  2. The poem is so wonderful. I feel the room and love the optimism in the eleven shirts in the laundry note. I think he planned to use them and even at his age was surprised at being called away.

  3. oh, tonia! i’m so glad you took the time to take the tests…i also am also apparently not very enthusiastic about music! however i am quite perceptive 😉 hence my interests in the test! i do recommend the Mathieu books if you are serious about a musical education.

    mama–i love the dailiness of the poem too. the laundry, the serf! the line “God is a day’s journey.” ah!

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