I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.
We live in an era where information and gossip flies fast and loose around social media platforms, text threads, and even reputable news joints. People like a juicy story. Something with a little teeth. Whether it’s someone falling off the wagon or cheating on their spouse, the vultures flock to hot gossip like…well…vultures. Occasionally, it makes me long for the years before we spent so much time obsessing about one another’s personal lives. r Back then, we simply didn’t have the ability to know everything.
Mail took a long time. Mail was the original slow burn. I miss the days of good letter, an anticipated letter, a good love letter at that. But even more so, I miss the sense of privacy that was held in handwritten letters. Content was not as easily forwarded on via a small button that actually says, “forward,” as if it’s a directive.
Our desire to know everything about everyone has expanded into exposés of historical figures, outing them, and digging up dirt on their personal failures as if E-True Hollywood Stories were running the show. I admit, I love to find out about a concealed love affair, or learning of someone’s obsession with another artist, sometimes it makes them feel more human. Imagine the headline: “Legendary artists, they are just like us.” Insert a photo here of Emily Dickinson carrying a slurpy and holding hands with an unknown figure exiting a 7-11.
At the core of today’s poem is the friendship between Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann. One of the reasons I love this poem is that instead of wishing to expose or romanticize their deep and ongoing connection, it wishes to turn away, give them a little privacy, and even encourage them to sit in silence. I love how this poem wants to hold their silence as if it's precious. Just as precious as the secrets between them. It is a way of safekeeping the complexity of their relationship, making room for all of us that resists the easy label. It is also a way to make room for their music, that sweet and indescribable thing that washes over us and dares us to define it.
by Lisel Mueller
Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann The modern biographers worry “how far it went,” their tender friendship. They wonder just what it means when he writes he thinks of her constantly, his guardian angel, beloved friend. The modern biographers ask the rude, irrelevant question of our age, as if the event of two bodies meshing together establishes the degree of love, forgetting how softly Eros walked in the nineteenth-century, how a hand held overlong or a gaze anchored in someone’s eyes could unseat a heart, and nuances of address not known in our egalitarian language could make the redolent air tremble and shimmer with the heat of possibility. Each time I hear the Intermezzi, sad and lavish in their tenderness, I imagine the two of them sitting in a garden among late-blooming roses and dark cascades of leaves, letting the landscape speak for them, leaving us nothing to overhear.
"Romantics," by Lisel Mueller, from ALIVE TOGETHER: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS by Lisel Mueller, copyright © 1996 Lisel Mueller. Used by permission of Louisiana State University Press.