Chopin in Exile
Polish mother, French father,
you adopted the French form
of Frédéric, became Parisian
though always homesick
for Warsaw, seized by Russia
while you played piano in Vienna.
Never to return home again
in your too-short life,
you poured yourself into
a poetry of tones with
Polish rhythms – mazurkas,
accent on second beat, polonaises,
accent on second half of first beat,
harmonic questions, dissonance slow to resolve,
a music of fleeting emotion,
passion mixed with ambiguity
like your uneasy love for the novelist,
Aurore, who preferred to be called
George, wore trousers, smoked cigars,
took lovers, and cared for you as consumptive coughing
wasted your body. Unlike other
composers of your time,
you eschewed the romance
of fanciful titles or story lines
and would be disturbed to know
that in the centuries after yours
you have scored films with
titles like The Innocent,
The Spy Who Loved Me,
The Death of Stalin,
Bodily Harm. Movies
that could have made you
wealthy, though never happy.
What would please you today
is that you still speak to Poland
and to pianists, in places
you never knew, who gather
to share interpretations
of nocturnes, waltzes, etudes,
ballades, impromptus and
to love you for your
to this instrument
that captured your soul.
Playing Brahms’ Intermezzo in A Major
Intermezzo, an arc, an interlude,
connects pieces of a story or dance,
but for you, it became the whole,
not the bridge between.
The motif here is longing,
one too pure for language,
even that of poetry,
too pure to touch.
I play the A Major to link
you and Clara, the golden haired
young composer and the dazzling
pianist with eyes of deep lapis
and a mad, music-genius husband.
I practice each day to work your
longing into my fingers on the keys,
knowing the music will never resolve.
It began when you knocked
on the Schumann door in Dusseldorf.
In their parlor you played the piano,
first with an echo of Beethoven,
then your own contrapuntal inventions,
polyphonic fabric, shifting accents.
You paused as Robert summoned Clara,
and out of her electric gaze,
the arc ascended. Part of a skewed
triangle, you loved her, but devoted yourself
to him, through his one-way descent
into the black tunnel of his mind.
Even when Clara was widowed,
you could not marry her –
perhaps because you felt stained
by the women and men
at the dockside Hamburg brothel –
where the blonde boy of you
once played a tinny piano
for coins to feed your family.
You could never make love
to one you actually loved,
or love one with whom
you shared a bed.
The longing made its own life –
not the entr’acte, but the act itself –
connected to no ending but death,
whichever death came first.
Carol J. Jennings was a lawyer for an independent federal agency from 1977 through 2011. Her poems have appeared in The New York Quarterly, Potomac Review, Oberon, Amelia, Chautauqua, and an anthology Chopin with Cherries: A Tribute in Verse.