Rita Dove reads
Ludwig van Beethoven’s Return to Vienna
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Oh you men who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn, or misanthropic, how greatly do you wrong me… —The Heiligenstadt TestamentThree miles from my adopted city lies a village where I came to peace. The world there was a calm place, even the great Danube no more than a pale ribbon tossed onto the landscape by a girl’s careless hand. Into this stillness I had been ordered to recover. The hills were gold with late summer; my rooms were two, plus a small kitchen, situated upstairs in the back of a cottage at the end of the Herrengasse. From my window I could see onto the courtyard where a linden tree twined skyward— leafy umbilicus canted toward light, warped in the very act of yearning— and I would feed on the sun as if that alone would dismantle the silence around me. At first I raged. Then music raged in me, rising so swiftly I could not write quickly enough to ease the roiling. I would stop to light a lamp, and whatever I’d missed— larks flying to nest, church bells, the shepherd’s home-toward-evening song—rushed in, and I would rage again. I am by nature a conflagration; I would rather leap than sit and be looked at. So when my proud city spread her gypsy skirts, I reentered, burning towards her greater, constant light. Call me rough, ill-tempered, slovenly—I tell you, every tenderness I have ever known has been nothing but thwarted violence, an ache so permanent and deep, the lightest touch awakens it…It is impossible to care enough. I have returned with a second Symphony and 15 Piano Variations which I’ve named Prometheus, after the rogue Titan, the half-a-god who knew the worst sin is to take what cannot be given back. I smile and bow, and the world is loud. And though I dare not lean in to shout Can’t you see that I’m deaf?— I also cannot stop listening.