Commonplace Book: Poetry of B.H. Fairchild

A poet who grew up around the shop floor and the classics reflects on craft, and lessons from his father.

Song
by B. H. Fairchild

Gesang ist Dasein

A small thing done well, the steel bit paring
the cut end of the collar, lifting delicate
blue spirals of iron slowly out of lamplight

into darkness until they broke and fell
into a pool of oil and water below.
A small thing done well, my father said

so often that I tired of hearing it and lost
myself in the shop’s north end, an underworld
of welders who wore black masks and stared

through smoked glass where all was midnight
except the purest spark, the blue-white arc
of the clamp and rod. Hammers made dull tunes

hacking slag, and acetylene flames cast shadows
of men against the tin roof like great birds
trapped in diminishing circles of light.

Each day was like another. I stood beside him
and watched the lathe spin on, coils of iron
climbing into dusk, the file’s drone, the rasp,

and finally the honing cloth with its small song
of things done well that I would carry into sleep
and dreams of men with wings of fire and steel.

Bert Fairchild, 1906-1990


Gesang ist Dasein, singing is being, is the title of a poem by Rilke, glossed a while back by Robert Hass in his Poet’s Choice column.

 

Albuquerque, New Mexico. Machinist George Mainz, working at an axle lathe in the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad shops, from the Library of Congress Digital Collections
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Choral Words: Eriks Esenvalds

The BBC Proms (the world’s biggest classical musical festival) are upon us, and all the radio broadcasts are streamed free on the BBC website.  (If you are in the UK you can watch video of some Proms or even go to them…a dream of mine.)
Lots of good programs, and a highlight so far is this premiere of a choral work for youth chorus by Latvian Eriks Esenvalds (a composer heard in DC last season) and setting this solemn text by Longfellow.

A Shadow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I said unto myself, if I were dead,
What would befall these children?  What would be
Their fate, who now are looking up to me
For help and furtherance?  Their lives, I said,
Would be a volume wherein I have read
But the first chapters, and no longer see
To read the rest of their dear history,
So full of beauty and so full of dread.
Be comforted; the world is very old,
And generations pass, as they have passed,
A troop of shadows moving with the sun;
Thousands of times has the old tale been told;
The world belongs to those who come the last,
They will find hope and strength as we have done.

It’s part of the program for Prom 9: The World Orchestra for Peace conducted by Donald Runnicles (with a performance of the Britten “Sinfonia da Requiem”), but also is provided in a binaural mix, which gives an enhanced sense of the space in which the music was performed. An interesting track for fans of new choral music.