An Die Musik (“To Music”)
Oh gracious art, in how many gray hours
when life’s fierce orbit ensnared me
have you kindled my heart to warm love,
carried me away into a better world?
How often has a sigh escaping from your harp,
a sweet, sacred chord of yours,
opened up for me the heaven of better times?
Oh gracious art, for that I thank you.
music and lyrics by Franz Schubert, 1817
based on a poem by Franz von Schober
I knew a girl who wanted to swim out into the ocean in Delaware in February. She was twenty-one and had just graduated from college. She couldn’t think of anything reasonable to do with her life. She was back in her hometown, living with her parents. She bought some old vinyl records at the Goodwill store. Pretty cool stuff she’d never heard before like Laura Nyro, Janice Ian, obscure albums by Donovan. But soon this music seemed just as bland and meaningless as the new stuff she was listening to on CD. She was hanging out with an old friend from grade school, a guy who had never left town or gone to college. He sold pot. She smoked it from a bong she made out of an empty toilet-paper roll. She was crafty that way.
She was sitting in her car, and she was wearing a huge, brown winter coat that she had also found at the Goodwill. It was a brown faux-tweed, a man’s coat, vintage. She knew she would drown if she wore it into the ocean. The way she pictured it, she would wade in and just keep walking. She’d be walking along the ocean floor, and she would somehow stay weighted down. She’d keep walking like that until she was ten feet underwater.
It would be really cold. She knew this.
She had the radio on inside the car. It was nighttime . . . nine, ten. She was parked by the beach, in a spot that would be impossible to get on a hot summer day.
All right, she thought. Let’s do this.
Then a song came on the radio. Just a shallow pop song, one she had never heard before. Another dumb love song. But wow, cool new sound. The singer had a sweet, hurt, begging voice. It was a man, but he sounded like a woman. The guitar was different, too, not exactly cowboy but almost, and sensitive somehow. She just really liked the song. She sat and listened to it all the way through. She felt better. Maybe tonight was not the night, after all. For the swim. She wanted to hear that song again and find out who it was, and whether he had any other good songs.
Also, she realized she really liked her old coat. Sometimes a coat was the last thing a person had, the last thing a person cared about. Something to throw on against the cold.