by Mark Anthony Signorelli (November 2010)
Heiligenstadt, October 6, 1802
You men who account me spiteful or stubborn or proud,
Or out of some hatred of man, aloof from the crowd,
How greatly you wrong me, failing to comprehend
The secret cause of those manners which so offend.
Since I was a boy, I have felt my ardent mind
Suffused with goodwill, nor was I disinclined
To achieve great things, which I strove for endlessly;
But for six years now, from a hopeless malady
I have suffered, compelled to confess to myself at last
That no cure is at hand, that the terrible years which have past
But prelude a tedious life thus afflicted and lonely,
Though formed for the love of fellowship. And if only
I could hide from my perverse troubles, but always the sense
Of my deprivation returns with violence
Whenever I mix among the oblivious crowd.
Yet how could I plead for myself, and say, “Speak aloud,
Shout, for now I am deaf.” How could I admit a blight
In that sense which I once possessed at such a height
As few men, living or dead, have ever known,
And which should be perfect in me. Oh, how could I own
That fortune had thus made such a fool of me!
I cannot do it – therefore, for charity
Forgive me whenever I seem to draw away,
For sorrow on sorrow it is that men should say
He is bitter or arrogant because I behave
In this cryptic manner, though truly, nothing I crave
So much as companionship, the civil delight
Of intimate talks that last well into the night,
And only the stroke of senseless circumstance
Has driven me to this seeming petulance
And left me banished from men, compelled to abjure
The pleasure of company, condemned to endure
A torment of mind both singular and cruel.
Once when I walked the rolling roads of Nemuhl
A friend who was by bid me attend to the chant
Of some idle shepherd, how sweet and exuberant
It rose from the glen on the noon-warm zephyr that stirred
The leaves on the laurel tree – yet nothing I heard
Of the peasant’s carefree tune, or the natural sigh
Of those victorious trees as the winds passed by,
And I only wept and stared desperately at my friend,
Who stood wondering by, unable to comprehend.
Such bitter moments as these, as they grew less rare,
Had driven me quite to the precipice of despair,
And a little more – well, I dare not say what had been,
For only think of the monstrous plight I was in;
Graced with the mastery to forge the substance of sound
After the longing of men, to please and astound,
Whether I fashioned for keyboard some delicate air
That falls on the satisfied mind as placid and fair
As the light of the moon, or whether I summoned the voice
Of a hundred tongues in praise of the bountiful joys
We have in our being, until the hearkening soul,
Transported beyond the pulsing aureole
Of the reverent sun, treads on the stars as on stones,
And the universe seems his to command at my tones;
So it wasn’t presumption or folly which led me to deem
Those talents devolved to my part from a beauty supreme,
To be exercised in accord with the heavenly will –
And then to discover the flourishing of that skill
Frustrated by this, the most inane of afflictions,
As though our Lord, by the greatest of contradictions,
Impeded the duties established by His own word.
I was lost, and could make no sense of a lot so absurd,
And began to consider death as a preferable state
To a life tormented by this ridiculous fate.
It was only my art that saved me, for then I swore
I would never quit this wretched existence before
I brought forth all of the surging music inside me,
In spite of whatever circumstance defied me,
In spite of whatever ailments affronted this frame,
In spite of the fury of all the forces that aim
At man and his happiness in our broken sphere.
Thus am I compelled, in the twenty-eighth sad year
Of my pitiable life to turn philosopher
And choose patience to guide me henceforth – so may I endure
In this frowning resolve till Atropos’ fine blade
Sever the thread and my empty husk is laid
In the tomb’s appropriate silence. Till then I persist
In my role as nature’s defiant melodist,
To make the world resound with the beautiful clamor
Of my soul’s relentless thunder, to acquaint and enamor
All human hearts with what is most lovely and good
In the human realm, and most worthy to be pursued,
To redeem a world too often hideous
By the grace of pure and abundant loveliness,
Consoling mortals the breadth of their tenuous span,
For this, to my mind, appears the best part of man.
My fellow creatures, whoever might peruse
This lamentable correspondence, do not refuse
Your compassion to one so strangely suffering,
One whose heart is filled with goodwill, as the mighty king
Of this universe can attest, one who has striven
With all of the talent and all of the might he was given,
Against the infirmities that fell to his part,
To assume a place among honorable workers of art.
Do no forget me after my days are through,
For while I was here, I labored always for you
In the midst of my tormented hours, and know
How I wished to make you happy – therefore, be so.
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