Genius Loci

i.m. D S C H


Music’s poltergeist among the grand spirits,
can you now tell what such possession is
                    or was
saying: I know the woman who stands here
in Pushkin’s clock-haunted house,
shadowy figure nimbus’d by light’s mode
amid the wan company thinning at dawn.
The air sways, a lamp holds vigil
with its smoky flame.
The fiddle is in velvet, the cello
has ceased to urge her proud commodious song.


The cello’s long since ceased to urge her proud
commodious song. It is like a love story 
that ends up tragic; or some common débâcle
heroic by decree.
There’s breach of custom that privileges laughter.
In art we hazard so much void of compulsion. 
The silence and down-turned thumb are not
compulsion but luck, or the climate, being in the wrong place.
The sublime wearies, so we have farting on brass
like one of Stalin’s jokes. This is a sketched-in
historical thesis. You will call it parody.


You will call this parody yet your own music
is like a spectral dance more than a dance of spirits
                    when it is not
like a wide city under a bronze sky,
when it is not the Neva or a high voicing
of a passion-nocturne by Aleksandr Blok;
the unheard-of threnos brought into hearing
and, once heard, a presentiment from nature
          no more to be wondered at
but in the broad way of wonder and acceptance.
Not parody precisely. It is true I think


that I have now confused you with Zhivago
and Pushkin and my own ambition
to write Onegin and fifteen string quartets
and some sparely glittering poem about Christmas
                    or Easter;
to get the drum-raps right for cracking the spring ice:
more fitful as a human testament
than heart-murmur or tinnitus, or the way one’s jaw
creaks when eating. Finally I declare homage
to the late Frank O’Hara, intelligent, choosy
lover of Russia and of Russian music.


Who is this woman who stands here in Pushkin’s 
clock-haunted house? I do not know.
                    I cannot
tell presence from memory amid the wan
company thinning at dawn. She is a muse
of sorts, that much is certain. Her hand
is nimbus’d in a gesture of rebuke
or blessing, and the lamp holds vigil
          with its well-trimmed flame.
The house-door stands ajar. The cello has now long
languished from her immemorable aubade. 

Copyright © 2024 by Geoffrey Hill. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 13, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.