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Invitation to Poetry: “There will be music despite everything”

Invitation to Poetry

Poetry Party No. 22!  I select an image and suggest a title and invite you to respond with your poems, words, reflections, quotes, song lyrics, etc. Leave them in the comments or email me and I’ll add them to the body of the post as they come in along with a link back to your blog if you have one (not required to participate!) I’ll add your contributions all week and then I will draw a name at random on Friday morning from everyone who participates and will send the winner a copy of my most recent zine Season by the Sea: A Contemporary Book of Hours. Feel free to take your poem in any direction and then post the image and invitation on your blog and encourage others to come join the party!

The title from this post is a line from Jack Gilbert’s beautiful poem A Brief for the Defense (click over to read the whole poem).  This line came back to my memory while in Vienna when we saw this street musician performing on the Graben, one of the city’s pedestrian zones. The cello is by far my favorite instrument and while standing there on a perfect summer evening and watching him play I thought of my father who loved music so much and wondered if, when he was young, the sounds of his favorite Austrian composers got him through the terrible years of the war. 

Have there been times when music provided you solace?  What do Gilbert’s words and the mosaic of images evoke for you?

Using a line from another poem can make a fun poetry prompt. I look forward to reading your own words of inspiration!


“the music plays on”

risking delight while the music plays on
harmonious chords break free from unexpected places
joy bursts loose from sorrow
heartstrings plucked out of hollow scores
a tune like we have never heard before
the music plays on

delight risked, all for a new song
sorrow melted away by fresh notes
harsh gongs left behind, if only for a moment,
emptiness disappears
delight takes its place &
the music plays on…

…this time with a slightly new beat

-Kayce Hughlett at lucy creates


This World is not Conclusion.
A Species stands beyond —
Invisible, as Music —
But positive, as Sound —

-Emily Dickinson

(Submitted by kigen at Eden’s Innuendo)


The year was 1992. The former Yugoslavia had erupted in ethnic strife and beautiful
Sarajevo, with its rich theatre and art traditions, had transformed into Europe’s
“capital of hell”.  Vedran Smailovic, principal cellist of the Sarajevo Opera
decided to perform in the middle of the war zone that his neighbourhood had become.

At 4 pm on May 27, as a long queue waited patiently for bread in front of one of the
last functional bakeries in the city, a mortar shell dropped in the middle of it,
killing 22 people instantly. Smailovic looked out of his window to find flesh,
blood, bone, and rubble splattered over the area. It was the moment he knew he had
had enough.

Smailovic was 37 at the time, widely recognised as an exceptionally talented cello
player. Till 1992, he had been occupied with his involvements in the Sarajevo Opera,
the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Symphony Orchestra RTV Sarajevo, and the
National Theatre of Sarajevo, as well as playing the festival circuit and working in
recording studios.

Looking back on that period, Smailovic describes himself and his associates as being
“totally naïve”.  So great was their confidence in their unity and plurality, he
says, that even when they were watching what was happening in other parts of
Yugoslavia, they felt absolutely certain that similar destruction could never happen
in Sarajevo, that it would be impossible to destroy such strong unity. That dream
was shattered by 1992.

Smailovic felt enraged by what was happening around him and powerless to do anything
about it. He was neither a politician nor a soldier, just a musician. How could he
do anything about the war? Did that mean he would just stand by and watch people
die, fearing all the while for his own life? In the long, dark night that followed
the bread-queue massacre, Smailovic thought long and deep. With the dawn of a new
day, he had made up his mind that he would do something, and that something would be
what he knew best—make music.

So every evening after that, at 4 pm, Smailovic would walk to the middle of the
street, where the massacre had occurred. He would be dressed formally, as for a
performance. There he would sit, on a battered camp stool placed in the crater made
by the shell, his cello in his hand, playing music. All around him, mortar shells
and bullets would fly. Yet he would play on regardless, perhaps substituting the war
noise with applause in his mind.    

For 22 days, one each for the people killed, Smailovic played in the same spot. He
played to ruined homes, smouldering fires, scared people hiding in basements. He
played for human dignity that is the first casualty in war. Ultimately, he played
for life, for peace, and for the possibility of hope that exists even in the darkest
hour. Asked by a journalist whether he was not crazy doing what he was doing,
Smailovic replied: “You ask me am I crazy for playing the cello, why do you not ask
if they are not crazy for shelling Sarajevo?”

(Submitted, but not written by Pam McCauley)


Included in the introduction to ‘An Interrupted Life – The Diaries of Etty Hillesum’
– there is this: “Etty Hillesum…a twenty-seven-year-old woman from Amsterdam… a time  of
personal growth and, paradoxically enough, of persnaol liberation…when the
scenario of extermination was being played out all over Europe…

The last words in her diary are: We should be willing to act as a balm for all wounds.

On 7 Septmeber 1943, Etty, her father and mother and Mischa were placed on
‘transport’. Out of that train window she threw a postcard, which was found and sent
by farmers: ‘We have left the camp singing.’ “‘

(Submitted by Carolyn)


One Cello

Surrounded by sounds of war,
one man alone
pulls out his cello,
bringing sounds of life in the rubble.

Walking to the spot
where 22 were blown apart,
he makes his stand,
bringing sounds of haunting sorrow.

Bullets whiz past him
for 22 days,
but the music persists,
bringing sounds of resistance undeterred.

As others cower and hide,
the sound of the cello
reaches them from the street,
bringing sounds of hope in the darkness.

Sarajevo. Sarajevo.
How could you come to this?
His cello cries,
bringing sounds of one heart beating.

No one joins him,
but he continues to come,
so the city will hear
the sounds of one cello in war.

-Pam McCauley


If there is a language,
of infinity, or words
for the divine
could we stop them
If there is a voice,
for God, or a sound
for infinity
could anything silence
its ringing?
Wherever you seek
you will find one
universal word
that every heart knows
within its very beating.
The metronome of blood
beating through canyons
keeping time, for the melody
of trees, the light
harmony of sunlight
harp strings and moonlight
sonata across the lake
of tears and pain
that are the passion of
a symphony playing on
in stardust, atom song,
the breath of the little one
on your breast. Life
sings despite pain
despite sorrow
because of death
that this orchestra
knows, is only a rest
measuring the staff
and so there will be music
despite everything.

-Christina at Left Turn at Joy


The cello worked in his hands
playing faster and faster.
In that interval of looking up
the manuscript was not complete.
The monk scribe could not elaborate
the fine note scrolls
to the thrum of the cello.

-Tom Delmore at Crow’s Perch



Burnt out mailbox at the corner,
reminder of our feeble words.
Crushed diaries litter sidewalks,
manna for dark and hungry birds.
Scraps of beauty die a thousand deaths
while ugliness rides in herds.
Darkness creeps, fitful tossing,
dreadful dreams, nascent hopes absurd.
When carried brightly on gentle breezes,
whispers of hope played by fingers curved.
There will be music despite everything.

-Rich at Pilgrim Path


In a circle
we gather around the fire,
drumming down the sun–
rhythms pounding out to sea,
the night is hypnotized.

-Bette Norcross Wappner (b’oki) at Surimono Garden


In my dream
We’re dancing
But when I wake up
my feet are two blocks
like usual

In my dream
I’m carrying candles
on my head
But when I wake
I worry about fire
and balance

In my dream
the song is so melancholy
I think my heart will break
But when I wake up
to the radio, it’s
too loud mariachi
in my ears.

In my dream
I am weeping
and when I wake up
my face is wet.

There will be music, despite

-Juniper at Possible Water


Joining in praise

The deep and rich sounds of the cello
The light and sweet notes of the flute
The clear and strong call of the trumpet
The full and harmonious song of the choir
The lone cry of the loon
The varied chorus of the morning birds
The welcome-home bark of the family dog
The contented purr of the cat in my lap
All these and more
  Reach deep into the soul
    Touching the tender spots
      Caressing the hardened edges
        Lulling the anxious nerves
          Romancing the lonely ache
            Stirring the seeds of hope
              Birthing new life
Praise the gift of music!

-anonymous contributor


    Spirals of sound,
    pattern of notes
    like a seashell

    held to your ear
    for the melodious
    rush of tides.

    If the ocean
    devours the land
    it will drown us

    in music.

-Tess at Anchors and Masts


The Offertory

There was no Eucharist today,
it not being the first Sunday of the month.
But the man in charge of music
slipped from his seat at the pipe organ
and walked over to the grand piano.
There he played a lyrical piece by Grieg
that caused my heart to move,
from a street of songless woe
to an alley of hidden hope.

It was my son’s nineteenth birthday
and I was reluctant; my heart heavy with regret
for what I had done and not done;
my sins of commission and omission.
But I won’t go into that now — the lyric lingers.
It’s enough to say that
Grieg gave me joy.
Watching his fingers prance across the keys
made my heart light, made it dance,
not a wild whirl but a
mild movement;
a release.

Then it was over
and my offering had been made.

-Martha Louise Harkness


I closed my eyes and listened,
the sound wanting no sight
to distract from its beauty.

Like eavesdropping on angels
singing to one another,
enrapt in their joyful song.

Like the sweet tune of a girl
alone in her room’s world,
a father’s ear at the door.

Like a mother with still breath
laying, listening gently,
the cradle’s treasure breathing.

Like the first sounds of morning
in a cool Scottish glen,
life free and fresh and pure.

Life’s loss and pain on hold,
for a moment, there will be
music despite everything.

-Andy at a man breathing


passion and control

exquisite mastery deep

soul delight ignite

-Mavis at Set the Bird Free


in the still and dark of night
I stand motionless
beneath stars that do
not seem to move either
and listen
listen to the sorrows of my life,
the hopes in my heart;
and listen
for the sounds of life ongoing,
for the harmony that never ends
for the music quietly playing on.

-ymp at Means of Grace


how can there not be music?
as heaven formed earth, morning stars sang together
no music?
earth and heaven declare thy praise!
there will be music?
long ago the drawing table awakened my heart
color and line, shape and pattern still revive my spirit
but equally
the roar of waves
winds through branches
subterranean chatter of the desert floor
the profound moan of hurricanes
birdsongs intertwined with melodies from stone-etching streams
the cascading splash of baptism’s waters
beethoven symphonies at the speed of full orchestra
breaking and pouring of eucharist’s grace
birthed and continue re-borning me
there will be music?
but how can there not be music?

-Leah Sophia at This Far by Faith


(mosaic of images created using Big Huge Labs Flickr Toys: cellist on the Graben in Vienna and sheet of music at Melk Benedictine Abbey in Austria)

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22 Responses

  1. Sue, you make me laugh! He was indeed quite adorable and a cello player to boot. With my husband by my side I maintained my composure. ;-)