Poetic Words: Dannie Abse

Tipped by BBC Radio’s Words and Music on the legend of Orpheus, found this wonderful poem by
the Welsh poet Dannie Abse.

Three Street Musicians

Three street musicians in mourning overcoats
worn too long, shake money boxes this morning,
then, afterwards, play their suicide notes.

The violinist in chic, black spectacles, blind,
the stout tenor with a fake Napoleon stance,
and the looney flautist following behind,

they try to importune us, the busy living,
who hear melodic snatches of musichall
above unceasing waterfalls of traffic.

Yet if anything can summon back the dead
it is the old-time sound, old obstinate tunes,
such as they achingly render and suspend:

‘The Minstrel Boy’, ‘Roses of Picardy’.
No wonder cemeteries are full of silences
and stones keep down the dead that they defend.

Stones too light! Airs unresistible!
Even a dog listens, one paw raised, while the stout,
loud man amazes with nostalgic notes – though half boozed

and half clapped out. And, as breadcrumbs thrown
on the ground charm sparrows down from nowhere,
now, suddenly, there are too many ghosts about.

— Dannie Abse

Shades of James Merrill’s wonderful “The Victor Dog” in the second to the last stanza.

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