Concerto No.4 (After Rowan Williams’ “Bach for the Cello”)

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Bach’s ‘Cello Suites are for me the supreme example of contemplation in music. They don’t deal with the emotions very much, there is nothing spectacular but just a single line unfolding itself. And I always see it as a kind of silver line in the middle of darkness…

Rowan Williams

As a child, I adored Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti, especially No.4. Today’s poem, prompted by Rowan Williams’ poetic tribute to Bach’s Cello suites, takes that magnificent and rich piece as its inspiration – as well as its composer, for whom music existed “for giving honour to God and for the permissible delight of the soul”.

 

Concerto No.4 (After “Bach for the Cello”)
Polyphony dances the three-in-one’s consummate joy.
Staves undulate, conflicting as the cantor
gathers multiples together.
 
Where strings’ thrum and wood’s wind intersect,
there the rejoicing ordinary is captured,
beneath manifold sound:
 
Mourning and marriage run deep together;
necessity, glory, a prince’s pleasure,
all find common, circling breath,
interweaving soft as light,
 
The soul’s delight.

 

Bach for the Cello – Rowan Williams
 
By mathematics we shall come to heaven.
This page the door of God’s academy
for the geometer.
 
Where the pale lines involve a continent,
transcribe the countryside of formal light,
kindle with friction.
 
Passion will scorch deep in these sharp canals:
under the level moon, desire runs fast,
the flesh aches on its string,
without consummation,
 
Without loss.
(From The Poems of Rowan Williams, Grand Rapids: Wm Eerdmans, 2002)

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