[encore] 513: Romantics

[encore] 513: Romantics

[encore] 513: Romantics

This episode was originally released on September 30, 2021.


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.