Beethoven and His Fifth Symphony (Sonnet I)

Who else could start a symphony like that,
Except the music titan Beethoven?
A Man for all mankind to marvel at,
For He lived life as none had ever done.
With Fate already knocking at His door,
With claim on His ability to hear,
The Man replied with notes, in groups of four,
And drove Fate back in awe, respect and fear!
He boldly vowed to ‘take Fate by the throat!’
To persevere until the very end!
For win or lose, He knew that with each note,
To newer heights His greatness would ascend!
He kept composing, much to Fate’s dismay…
But even Fate, knew when to walk away!

08.01.92 – 08.21.92




Copyright by Minh Tan on listed dated of completion
and published in Perspectives, ISBN 0-9686250-0-2.



Notes to this poem…

This was the first poem completed that I kept, although records from dates worked on listed with other poems will eventually reveal this was not the first poem I started which I kept, nor that I started putting pen to paper in my poetry phase during the summer of 1992 but rather the winter. It was just that I was not serious about mass writing of poetry until the summer of 1992, spurred on by intentional commitment to do so rather than a compelling dream which made me feel I just had to try and put it poetically to paper, but that is another story.

As I was educating myself in poetry through reading half randomly selected poetry collections at the library, based on what was available and what I felt like looking into based on my poetry exposure in the past, I also did the same for classical music with library CDs. I hated silence in doing homework and studying, and I did a lot of that, but did not have a lot of time to commit to simply listen to classical music for a more serious study, due to the homework and poetry. What I did then was to have all kinds of classical music playing in the background while I did my studies and stopped to listen more carefully whenever something caught my ear, which was more often than I could have done with, but without regrets because I was discovering all the joys of classical music. I also read all the liner notes with the classical music and there were plenty so I got to know about the composers’ style and life, too.

I was in my Antonio Vivaldi phase at the time of writing this poem. Vivaldi lived during the Baroque music era and it was easy to get into, kind of “classical rock’n’roll”, if you will, with its general simplicity, tempo and lightness. Vivaldi was also an interesting character, being the red-haired priest at a girls orphanage in Italy where he taught the those orphaned girls how to play instruments and formed a respected orchestra and gave them something in life whereas society never did from the time they were born. I was even reading Vivaldi’s biography by Michael Talbot at the time.

In finding that link, I just saw they sell the book used at $50 USD now. Wow. I’ve got a copy I bought used for like $1.

Anyway, despite all that, no composer’s story could compete with Beethoven’s half mad persona, outcast by society that couldn’t understand his genius, and fighting the cruel fate handed to him with his worsening deafness late in his life, but not that late that it was meaningless. He was still composing like mad, pardon the pun, at its onset, and for years till his death. Between Vivaldi and Beethoven, I knew about a nice life story and a media release of a sensational one, and the latter captured me to write this poem.

Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is arguably the most well known piece of classical music there is, and quite convincingly arguably, too. It begins with a four note motifs that is generally sung as da-da-da-DUM—- (6.8 MB), followed by another, but lower four note motif also sung as da-da-da-DUM—-.

Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is simple, but grand, and it was this grandeur that I felt well represented his epic battle with hearing loss, rejection by society, search for immortality and such, which I tried to capture in this poem. I envisioned it as Fate coming to look for him at his door, knocking as if to signify that was the end of it all for Beethoven, and all Fate could hear in return was that Fifth Symphony. While you might think that if you made a movie with Fate coming to knock at Beethoven’s door, you would use the Fifth Symphony to show Fate on its way and knocking with that four note motif, and maybe have Fate hear the fifth movement Ode to Joy from the Ninth Symphony or something, but the Fifth wasn’t by Fate, it was to Fate, and was more symbolic of Beethoven’s response than the Ode would have been, in my mind.

Then so the rest of Beethoven’s story went something like he just kept at composing till he died, and probably lived longer because of it, having a reason to get up every morning. He did vow to “take Fate by the throat” as was quoted in the poem, and part about Fate walking away, that was in reference to his living out the natural course of his life to be destined to be one of the world’s great composers, the greatest in the eyes of many. For having the spirit to defy Fate, I put Beethoven on the same level as Fate, which was the reason behind the capitalization of all third person references to Beethoven, like Man and His.

This sonnet was my ode to Beethoven, for inspiring me into music, poetry and to be more than what I or others around me had expected of me at the time and before that. Thanks, Ludwig!

There was one thing I did not like about this sonnet, and that was the fact I needed the title as sort of a fifteenth line to reference what I was talking about in the rest of the poem. Well, not really, if you knew some history and/or classical music, but for an entire poem on something, I’d prefer neither to have to make that reference in a title or go without stating that reference if I could help it. I don’t particularly like when poets I read do that, either. There’s a time for reference so as not to disturb the poem with side stories, but some just do it to suit their writing purposes or make themselves seem smart or are vain enough to think everyone cares as much as they do about something unimportant to know all that they know about it. Anyway, I just couldn’t make it work here to reference the work in the poem so I had to settle for leaving it in the title, which is why this sonnet is not called Sonnet 001 while the rest are numbered like how Shakespeare numbered his sonnets, all 154 of them!

Oh, the fact it took three weeks for me to complete this poem was nothing. I was already into the habit of working on a whole whack of poems at a time by this time. My head was, and still is, an out-of-control fireworks display of ideas. When I got new ones, I penned it. Every now and then, I’d get a piece – idea, rhyme, metaphor, etc. – for an existing poem and would go back to it. Sometimes I force myself to sit and grind it out but rarely, only when I can sense I’m that close to getting what I want and felt it was just a matter of putting my mind to it to get it that I would ever do such a thing.

Please click here to see the only ten sonnets I have ever written.


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