To me Thy heart is encased in stone
The extent of which’s thickness ’tis not known
But as thick as that stone box may be
I will never stop trying to get through to Thee
As poet I have but force of air
In spoken words from works I share
With which to wear away that wall
In other words not much at all
But as much time as that task may take
I will nevertheless the effort make
For with time even mountains
Can be eroded by the winds that blow
As deserts show
05.08.94 – 07.31.95
This poem can be sung to a duet for piano and cello called ‘Les Cygnes’ (The Swan),
by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921).
Copyright by Minh Tan on listed dated of completion
and published in Perspectives, ISBN 0-9686250-0-2.
Notes to this poem…
I had heard this duet for piano and cello several years prior to writing lyrics for it, during my years of heavy classical music sampling between 1992-1994 as I went through university and borrowed classical music CD after CD to get to know the genre. It was one of one of a few dozens pieces out of all those tracks that stopped me dead in my tracks with what I was doing to listen fully to the music rather than letting it go in the background and processing it in my background thoughts. I only wrote lyrics for three of those pieces up to this point as the desire to write lyrics for the other pieces faded or I got frustrated with it, like with Edward Elgar’s Salut d’amour that became Sonnet III. Apparently, writing sonnets was easier than writing song lyrics for me then than now, in 2008! However, my desire to write lyrics for Les Cygnes never let go of me, persisting from May of 1994 till July of 1995 when, at the height of my poetry output, I had enough “groove” to give it another go and finished it, even though the key imagery I had since I first put pen to paper on this poem in 1994.
The entire imagery for this poem was inspired by, and built on, that last piano run at the end of the musical piece as it went from the high pitched end of the piano down to the other end, though not quite ending near the other end. It reminded me of sand grains dropping from a fistful of sand as one tried to grab sand to bring it from one place to another. My science background reminded me that sand was created from erosion of mountains from wind over millions of years, something that was quite shocking to me when I first learned about it because I had never thought of wind as being so powerful as to be able to erode mountains, but it was also what the wind carried to do that, of course. Still, it was shocking.
From the winds came the thought of words spoken being movement of air just like wind, and from words came poetry, which was what I wrote, and poetry in the form of lyrics like this poem that could be read or sung. But what could it erode? Well, it had to be stone like a mountain to make the metaphor work, and this had to be a love song of one sort or another because it was too beautiful not to be, but for some reason, I didn’t relate mountains to obstacles like say, the pop song Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. I’m not one for cliché but I don’t exactly do a great job to avoid them, either, though I’m glad I did here.
Without the mountains for stone to be eroded, it had to be something else, and something else that represented an obstacle. Wherever I got the idea for the stone box enclosing a girl’s heart, representing her unwillingness to return my love, all written in gender neutral first person speak, I don’t know, but I do know I got it in a matter of seconds just like everything else came to me regarding that imagery. It all came to me within half a minute, with the final thoughts being wanting to end the poem in some way relating to sand so that after the final note sung and that piano descent got played, one could basically demonstrate it as a singer on stage by opening a fistful of sand no one would have known was in his/her hand during the entire performance since it could simply have been a clenched hand the singer had from being nervous or whatever. How many people would notice that anyway? I know the sand would not be easily visible, but if it was made sparkly enough, since glass is sparkly if put in the right light, it could be a show stopper to top it all off.
So you get an idea of how I think now? 🙂
Anyway, great ideas (in my opinion), but how the hell was I going to get all that into words? The inspirational moment was exhilarating, but the reality was depressing because it was almost like realizing the idea was beyond my abilities. If it happened to me today, such an experience, ironically, I doubt I’d have the patience and determination to persist so long as I did for over a year as with this poem, coming back to it here or there and having it on my mind a lot of days for just a bit but having no result come out of it, nor many times with more concentrated efforts only to make no headway. To the tune’s credit, or Saint-Saëns’ compositional abilities rather, the tune was powerful enough to seduce me to coming back and trying and trying and trying until the end felt in sight, and then giving it one final push to get done, though it was still another couple of months before I got it done. But I finally did, and so the results you see in the poem above, one of my poems I most dearly love! Ooops! Thinking too poetically to rhyme. 🙂
The moment of completion was as beautiful as the music itself, and the poem, in my mind, from the labour I put into it, regardless of what anyone else might think of it. Not surprisingly, I don’t have the voice to sing the range required, if you listen to the cello part that is the lyrical part. However, many years later now, as I write the annotations for this poem in February 2008, I have it on sheet music and am looking for a pianist and soprano who can try it out for me. It should work but I don’t know that much about singing soprano to know for certain. I will only know if someone can help me try it. Still, even with those slight doubts, it is my dream to still see it in a little concert someday, somewhere.
That girl in the poem (who was no one in real life) might just love me before this song ever gets sung in public, I am sometimes getting the feeling. But while my patience for poetry writing might have diminished, my patience for making my dreams happen have only increased with age. I will get this thing performed someday, even if mountains become deserts before then… so to speak.