"The oldest music is still form, still silent": Poetry by Charles Wyatt

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"The oldest music is still form, still silent": Poetry by Charles Wyatt

One Poem by Charles Wyatt

Notes Toward an Unheard Music

It Should Be Wordless


Begin, the score does not perform itself.
Intention to begin, begin again,
some mix of birdsong, gathering of weeds

must be born in ignorance, in blind grace –
you have never seen the sun shadow weeds,
never supposed the idea of it,

of the god of the corner of the room.
Give it up, idea, weed in the way,
merely an urge to dream of drifting smoke –

This is the name that carries the name of things,
the first seeing, the first sound, breathing in,
in the corner of the room, stern shadow,

journey’s end in intention to begin.
Give no names to the weeds of things, of things
that grow in shadow and in gathering.

Before the names is where you must begin,
before the evening sun goes down, that song
that ends before beginning, an angel –

every name that has no name, no word,
that sleeps in place before the god that plans
this song in shadow and in drifting silence.


The celestial violin weathers its worms, its age.
Of all those years, one was the first, one was
its name, and one and one the years mounted

a tiny staircase while the violin
played truth to truth and watched the fires burn,
every brushy poem its own weather.

Steep study, poet turned philosopher,
musician turned to violin, to ending
that isn’t ending, moment that isn’t moment.

Every intentional act has its own
purely intentional object, the first ending
become the last ending, an ending weather.

The oldest music is still form, still silent.
It knows where sound begins, where the poem roots,
finding another poem, it observes intent,

allows a certain harmony, echoes
bounding down the steeps, the steeps all echo,
all weed, all desire, beginning to know

that what is given is what is not intent,
and takes silence as if it were birdcall
or the muttering of weeds in a wet wind.


As soon as the purely intentional object loses
its direct contact with experience, the howling dandelion,
sow-thistle, night shade, sharp-pointed dock, the poem

casts out its will, its arc, geography
of every ocean wave, to that end of
rough and steep by steep, adder’s tongue, wormwood.

The thought, goose grass, every beating heart its
own beginning, finds itself, ever lost
to any other will, bird’s foot, May weed,

all about the night-painted bedroom wall,
June window, July window, black henbane.
The future lost its days deep in the past,

in dreams and in waking and in sleeping, wormwood
and couch grass, mourning dove harassed by wrens,
calling owls, calling who, calling who’s who.

The ocean like a pile of rocks, all light
and bird’s-foot-trefoil, leaves of Lange-de-Beefe.
Weeds, stars and sand, the poem a pile of rocks,

the simple act, purely intentional.
Simple nonsense, owl’s call, cows call, over
heaven and earth an unconscious relation.

These letters then, written in Adam’s hand,
almost without roots but upward reaching,
a watery scrawl, every rock’s riffle

its own child, and in the constant mirror
heaven holds, blue elixir, some sign of
the earth no water knew, no green obtained.

Its small shadow no more than a feather,
a wing settling, a nest that rocks after
the manner of words, even written words.

In the center of the volcano, a mud golum,
and his story is intention, step by step
to the forgetting place, a wide flat stone.

And there like weeds the poems gather and spring:
love-lies-bleeding and the like, monster
marigold, cocklebur at earth’s center.

We ghosts are clouds, we clouds cradle, mirror
the poem planted, sung, written, uprooted,
bright against the torn earth, so quick to life,

it has no meaning, clinging, no flung seeds.
Hardly enough roots to stand on, comic,
it teeters, intent to heal, fill a void.

Begin with the bear, how he does not roar
over his dancing – there is no forest
music for the white butterfly to hear.

Hear in the plain the zebra neigh, the lion
crouch and creep under some song – a tusk,
an ivory key, cannot charm the forest –

only the sound of rain for the prancing bear.
He waits, he leaps, claws clang decorously,
their music ruly – all the weeds are ferns.

Wake up, poor player, there’s slower music
for you – slow and slow as a morning dream,
twisted sheets and gnawed pillow, rain falling

without sound, rain without forest, without
bear – you, player, give us the slowest silence
and play in triplets – there is more to learn

in the twitch of the lion’s tail – the selfsame bear
pounced fair in the rain, pounced foul, meaning more,
meaning more than music, meaning more

than he recognizes – we hear it now
and are returned without our instruments –
bright and blind, our voices singing entwined.

Not to be revealed because it does not
exist. Not to be A or B because
C. Rembrandt’s Three Trees where in the background

behind the trees, the squeaking wheels of the passing
wagon where there is more weather in ink
and cross hatching than in wide washy air –

three made one in the speech of ink, the smell
of chiaroscuro, the yellow of the lit,
the lifting, the swift tumbling butterfly –

never near because it does not, does not
exist. Merely not to be A nor B.
Perhaps not yellow, false name for the sun.

Look to the west for the weather of abstractions,
to the east for the tumbling sun, horses lathering,
giants well imagined – it does not,

does not imagine ink, this white weather.
It rolls, is fine, it sews invisibly.
It seems, hearing only itself, its being

a long and abstract noise, the sound of hearing,
waves in the mind with sun glints, waves that pattern
waves, unseeing, that hear only themselves.

That feeling is not a tree but it rose up
and shed every last word in some wind,
some wind to sail before or tack into,

the poet wandering in the north, waiting
for the frenzy, the abstract idea,
the first fever of summoning – every

bird is the nightingale, every page
is the night, grass and flowers invisible,
but there in every blackbird’s roving eye,

the cock crows its crow – the anvil bird anvils
from the juniper tree – the poet’s watch seconds
its seconds – all pretend music. Inside ourselves,

we are gypsies balancing the future,
not Schwärmerei, not the all, the gnat’s eye
moving against the mountain, the many steeps,

as many as the tarot cards that bring
humans to love, persons to the wrong end
of words, whichever that might be. We wake

to another sleep and balance like dust
in a beam, not swarming so much as gleaming,
a mist of motes and there beyond, some note. . .

Place it in a maze, the great house, castle,
and there Sylvester, once your uncle Marion,
the door, the coming in and going out,

his own butler, invisible, perhaps
the first idea sprung from that risen
up and leaves that were words in the green maze

grazed by dragons and butterflies – Sylvester
is Sylvester, in his imagination,
word of the word, and of the fallen words,

each one a coming in and going out.
This is the name of character, letter
lounging in a story, wet by the sea

or the lilies of a lake where he drowned,
the lilies that rose up to float and shed into
the wind not words but dragonflies, first idea,

the power of the surfaces of things,
speaking of cold and mud, of mud and cold,
buried and bottom dwelling, and meaning

the same in the dream as in the story.
And yellow flowers spoke and blue hovered
the damsel flies, with the ease of silence.

Alapana of any season, over
the drone of language, the first drone, the last,
bending about its nature, joyous bending

without reason’s rhythms, all butterflies,
but reason’s moment, first flashing, before
its laboring nature becomes apparent,

is that toward which the windy weeds are turning,
apotheosis of misfortune, that
which before the sound, revered among roots,

who knew what thoughts touched, first secret among
secrets, what heart hears, and then afterward,
it was as if we heard and knew those songs,

promised and wished for windings among toadflax,
dame’s violet, Mediterranean
murmuring, who felt that breath, a pinch

of nettles, thorn in the heart, tooth of dragon.
Do not look up. His bright passing shadows
every thought, every momentary

recognition – his true name is Yhoten,
his story hidden in the mountain’s breast,
his breath is fire in thorns, inside your heart.

The poem is – it is what you cannot hear,
then through the night, the wrestling – no one can
prevail – abstraction falls away, a name

remains – disturbed earth welcomes abundant
weeds, a storm of growing into the edge
of silence, the idea in the corner

of the room, weedy muse, uncertain god,
giving buckwheat, canary grass, henbane,
iris, love-lies-bleeding, turning away.

What dark angel, who will not give his name,
departs the raped earth, the world of seeing –
what god hoards this silence, intelligence,

the weeds of things, the roots that cannot cling,
all of them, singly, or in phalanx and swarm,
roadside poets, mumbling as we pass of

how difficult it is to hear the end
of things: of time, of rain – the man who has
no shoes still stands beside the road, hearing

a sound he does not hear, under the morning
then, player, turn toward the sun, every
name unnamed, even this drifting smoke.


Charles Wyatt is the author of two collections of short fiction, a novella, and two poetry collections. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee where he was principal flutist of the Nashville Symphony for 25 years.

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