The fourth (and final) poem of Donald Mace Williams’ melodic-ekphrasis The Reconstructions tetraptych on/in music by different composers, published in The Decadent Review (a Beethoven, a Vaughan Williams, this Ravel, and this Brahms).
The dining hall is full of brown, warm light,
The table weighted down with old-style dishes–
Roast beef with browned potatoes, yeasty breads–
The diners in coats, vests, ties, long gowns, amber
Curved combs in thick, upswept, honey-hued hair,
Using last names–“Miss,” “Mister”–all but speaking
In meter, putting the occasional popular phrase
In vocal quotes. An oak fire warms the back
Of the host to this manorial meal, who carves,
Passing down loaded plates and morsels of wit.
Dated, perhaps, and stiff, but in a glow
You soon see comes from restless minds, too keen
To let the postures of their time restrict
Their outreach, and broad souls, warmed by a matchless
Claret, ennobling food and talk. At first
The men are dominant, affairs of state,
Hunting, and dogs their substance. Such insights,
Such stories, genial, never malicious,
You do not hear these days, much less such voices.
After a silence during which the faces
Lighten, redden a bit from the great wine,
A new turn on the same ideas comes,
A vibrant, teasing, questioning response
From women, caught up here, then here, till all
The company seems bright with joy, the host
Smiling, the fireplace filled with airy flame.
Surprising, then, after that cordial uproar
Subsides, to have one voice emerge, a woman’s,
And strike a note of melancholy, of loss.
She speaks so raptly it is as if she
Were all her audience, and so lyrically,
A celebration of sorrow, that all hushes
And no one moves as long as she is speaking.
But this mood, sad and lovely, can not last
Amid such company, such food. She stops,
And soon a burst of cheer and optimism
Resounds, the table almost whirls, the guests,
Even the pensive one of moments ago,
Buoyed up by pleasure. So the dinner ends
With coffee, pudding, pulling back of chairs,
Quick bows, and, suddenly, as if this great
Bodily warmth and brilliance, the joy and wit,
The momentary sadness, even the food,
So rich and filling, had been after all
A feast of spirits or gods, the guests dissolve,
Vanish. The table shines, fresh-laid, and only
The outlines of the guests hang in the air
Like images of light on closed eyelids
Or French-horn resonances living on
In polished walls after a concert ends.