On the occasion of his birthday, 160 years ago, on February 27, 1848 At the Solitary Age of Twelve—Seven and Twelve Being Holy Numbers The first of seven early music books Reveals a boy methodical as Bach. He studies Bach’s first 48. He looks In detail, analyzing. “Let us talk,” He seems to say, “Just you and I alone. You give me notes and I make careful notes In my replies,” establishing a tone Of life-long worship and respect. No throats Are needed in this conversation. Still, The pages take the reverent boy’s replies. He works throughout the book of beauties till He fills it with his thoughts. His careful eyes Take in the teaching, fingers taking down The lessons. Hubert leans, a smiling frown. Intellectualized Emotion The young Parry put into his jottings that his favourite among them all was “my grand fugue in G major with three (own) subjects.” “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp.” ~ Robert Browning He kept on writing at the tough one though, Quite like an ancient hero given task, Task, task, and harder task. Thus muscles grow. You do what music and your teachers ask And do it even harder, do it more. You take the thing and make it fuller, large, More intricate, complete. You stretch a score. You write a denser piece and make it charge With extra power. He wrote a fugue of grand Complexity of not just one, or two, But triple subjects all his own. His hand Grasped far beyond the teacher’s aims, too few. His century thought the major key of G Was for emotions of a staid degree. A Canon “Written in School”—in a Geometry Lesson? His later comment on his childhood work Remarks on one of these, a canon, that It was “Written in School.” Did he shirk His classroom duties, hiding where he sat Behind the others doing problems from A lesson book? The master would not guess The boy was hoping that the notes would come In harmonies like winning in a chess Match. Canons flowed as sensuous as swirls Of dragons: one, this one, was perfect blue Of eye placed so . . . just so . . . in golden curls, Curved scales. The teacher didn’t have a clue. The boy who sat there at the back composed Not angles — but melodies juxtaposed. Psalm 130 From out of depths of sorrow came the sounds Of Parry’s anthem (first of all) “In my Distress.” The music came from deep chest wounds Und Bach and Luther. Anguish reaches sky And heaven only when the music climbs From sources such as these. What troubles us Is how the boy had suffered. Music chimes Out from his mind, his heart, and hand to truss The soul, a soul split far inside. The psalm “Aus tiefer Not” comes out of him as lines Shaped more like blood from crucifixion’s palm And sword wounds up in gold and scarlet shrines. Affliction makes him cry out note, and chord, And melody for sister he adored. Prime The first real piece by Parry, or the one He called his first, reveals through notes his clear And sweet imagination. He has won His way to poetry. He finds the sphere Of youth’s sincerity. Variations Reveal his talent, but the “first peice” proves His power. Hubert calls them “variegations.” He’s joking, boyish, but the music moves Us. Purity of vision, if not spelled Quite right, is dream-like nonetheless. The lines Flow on. The future promise is both swelled And focused presently in singing signs. Fourteen, with childish penmanship, he still Breaks through. His music will break through. It will. Click here to read the rest of the sonnets in A Lively Hope Phillip Whidden is a poet published in America, England, Scotland (and elsewhere) in book form, online, and in journals. He has also had an article on Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum est” published in The New Edinburgh Review.