With a passing apology to Wallace Stevens
The man in the pork pie hat was green,
the hat was the greenest ever seen,
but greener yet was the haunting tune
he played on his whistle, night and noon -
a theme for a man in a hat that was green.
A whistle to him, a flute to me -
and chords with a touch of anarchy.
Green for earth and blue for gloom,
red for passion and brown for doom -
all in the whistling flute for me.
The birds of the air, when they heard the sound,
gathered to listen from miles around,
and joyous beings from wood and field,
barked their applause or shrieked or squealed,
so moved were they by the flute's pure sound.
But the whistling man and the world he knew
saw nothing of what the tune could do -
the way it could calm, excite or cheer,
inspire a hope, dispel a fear
in the world beyond the world that they knew..
There were those who said of his tunes: "They're brown,
morose and stodgy, all down-town.
With chords too wooden, hackneyed, trite,
he's nothing to say on the human plight,
that man whose tunes are excessively brown."
"Your chords," they said, "are squashy man -
been around since time began.
There's nothing new to catch the ear,
nothing for man to love or fear.
Too squashy and soft for beast or man."
"My music's naff," said the whistling man,
"though I've given it all the truth I can..."
So leaving his whistles and leaving his spouse,
at dead of night he walked out of the house
and went for a walk, did the whistling man.
On a railway bridge where buses pass
he caught his reflection in the glass
and hurling the hat far down the line,
"Damn it! "he cried, "the music's mine...!"
And his world turned round as a bus went past.
"The notes I compose have failed to please?
They do not like my melodies?
Say it's a mish-mash of a theme,
don't try to change my colour scheme,
the way to go if I want to please!"
But they told him then: "You should take a stance,
the symbols change as the themes advance,
you build each tune to a resolution,
aim instead for dissolution -
make dissonance your default stance."
A vast mistake! Their discord way
could never green a brownish day:
green for envy, red for sin,
brown for the earth to bury you in -
there's no mistaking the discord way.
Yet none of them painted a clear-cut scene,
not red nor blue, nor brown nor green,
but more disturbing even than that:
he couldn't compose without the hat.
He couldn't relate to a single scene.
The following day, at the railway line,
the hat had vanished with never a sign.
So he fashioned three whistles, one of stone,
another of wood and a third of bone
to summon his muse from the railway line.
He blew them all in a triple blast,
all three at once, 'til his shady past
splintered before him, note by note,
his melodies growing more remote -
for the whistling man had died in the blast.
His shade arose and bought a guitar,
bought the guitar in a two-bit bazaar,
strung it himself with strings of gold,
strings for the things he had puffed of old -
kinder on chords, his two-bit guitar.
Chords from strings or puffs of air?
The twanging gave them a certain flair.
"I can plunk my way to my heart's content
with chords that heaven might have sent,"
said the man who was strumming the strangest airs.
Notwithstanding my apology to Wallace Stevens, this poem did not begin with him, but with a rather insignificant autobiographical detail from my art student days. However, nothing in the poem is as was, except the hat. The hat is unvarnished truth. Everything else stands for something else - beyond which, me lips is sealed - for now, anyway.
caused a boom in sparrowhawks -
that's where the sparrows went