Things We Like

Writings by Mozart, Borges, and Herbert

Three pieces of writing I read in the last week that stood out in one way or another. Two poems and one letter.


WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
Rome, April 14, 1770

(A letter from 14-year-old Mozart.)

I AM thankful to say that my stupid pen and I are all right, so we send a thousand kisses to you both. I wish that my sister were in Rome, for this city would assuredly delight her, because St. Peter's is symmetrical, and many other things in Rome are also symmetrical. Papa has just told me that the loveliest flowers are being carried past at this moment. That I am no wiseacre is pretty well known.

Oh! I have one annoyance--there is only a single bed in our lodgings, so mamma may easily imagine that I get no rest beside papa. I rejoice at the thoughts of a new lodging. I have just finished sketching St. Peter with his keys, St. Paul with his sword, and St. Luke with--my sister, &c., &c. I had the honor of kissing St. Peter's foot at San Pietro, and as I have the misfortune to be so short, your good old WOLFGANG MOZART was lifted up!


Jorge Luis Borges
The Poet Proclaims His Renown

The span of heaven measures my glory
Libraries in the East vie for my works.
Emirs seek me, to fill my mouth with gold.
The angels know my latest lyrics by heart.
The tools I work with are pain and humiliation.
Would that I had been born dead.


Zbigniew Herbert
THE RAIN

When my older brother
came back from war
he had on his forehead a little silver star
and under the star
an abyss

a splinter of shrapnel
hit him at Verdun
or perhaps at Grunwald
(he'd forgotten the details)

he used to talk much
in many languages
but he liked most of all
the language of history

until losing breath
he commanded his dead pals to run
Roland Kowalski Hannibal

he shouted
that this was the last crusade
that Carthage soon would fall
and then sobbing confessed
that Napoleon did not like him

we looked at him
getting paler and paler
abandoned by his senses
he turned slowly into a monument

into musical shells of ears
entered a stone forest

and the skin of his face
was secured
with the blind dry
buttons of eyes

nothing was left him
but touch

what stories
he told with his hands
in the right he had romances
in the left soldier's memories

they took my brother
and carried him out of town
he returns every fall
slim and very quiet
he does not want to come in
he knocks at the window for me

we walk together in the streets
and he recites to me
improbable tales
touching my face
with blind fingers of rain

 

White Light / White Heat

Flying to New York today and "White Light / White Heat" during the flight.
One of the better pop records ever recorded. The Velvet Underground was one of the last groups of the 19th century to accomplish a tour de force in creative innovation. Very few artists can match or even tentatively do what they did. We wouldn't have pop music if it weren't for tracks like "Sister Ray".