Academic journal article The Hudson Review

The Nomoi

Academic journal article The Hudson Review

The Nomoi

Article excerpt

Illusions of music:

that it is alive,

that it takes up space,

that it suffers.

At any one moment, all we hear

is the bite of catgut,

thrum of cured hide,

breath-but we recognize

an architecture and motifs,

as if we entered a known house

with a courtyard, a kitchen,

a bed where a lover lies naked.

Each note remains itself,

do or ti, independent of timbre,

attack or volume, and passes freely

through the roots of the great chords.

It is all braided with silence

so that we distinguish melody,

figured base, counterpoint,

clear as in a frame-

everything grounded in a rest

we will never hear, never know

until we enter it.

Only the intervals last forever,

the great separations,

aeolian sixth and dominant seventh.

The dorian third never grows old,

not even in the mind.

So Pythagoras taught me

that summer in Syracuse

when the circular winds

drenched us with spray

and a moth brushed us

obsessively with soft wings.

He took me to his workshop:

no aulos, no syrinx, no kithara,

no clue to the presence of the gods,

except a smith's forge

and net-twine hanging from a nail.

We are divided against ourselves,

and the gods are sundered.

There is a unifying force,

harmony, but to know it

you must master time,

the deepening blue of twilight,

and keep nothing: no past, no teacher.

He struck a horseshoe with a mallet

and suddenly the great intervals

emerged from the chaos of blows

like Aphrodite from the ocean.

When the string was pinched in half

the octave revealed itself. …

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