The Heavy Launch of the Siegfried Idyll

The landing offered just the space required
for Wagner and the band that he had hired
to play the idyl Cosima inspired,
the mother of young Siegfried, whom he’d sired.
The able men there present were quite tired
from long rehearsal, yet prepared and fired
for Siegfried Idyll’s birth.

The landing’s floor was finest alabaster,
while on the walls hung sconces cast in plaster;
bright sunshine through a window lit the master.
But his slow tempi courted a disaster:
he would not drive his forces to play faster.
Serenity, not speed, the music’s caster
would have, to show its worth.

Though minor next to most of his ambitions,
the feat required the boldest of decisions:
that landing had to hold fourteen musicians
to offer in the first of all renditions
this birthday gift, tenderest of Wagner’s visions—
a tonal greeting borne of old traditions,
joy mixed with quiet mirth.

Think of the weight that landing had to bear
for nearly half an hour, the strain each stair,
the riser and the tread, too, had to share.
More than four centuries of wear and tear
Tribschen had seen. Had those assembled there
known, none would have played, even on a dare,
but thought about his girth.


Poet’s Note: The Siegfried Idyll was written in 1870 as a birthday greeting for Cosima Wagner, née Liszt, whom Wagner had married a few months earlier. Its music is drawn mainly from Wagner’s Siegfried, completed in 1871. The site of the first performance was Tribschen, a fifteenth-century villa now part of Lucerne.




Julian D. Woodruff, who contributes poetry frequently to the Society of Classical Poets, writes poetry and short fiction for children and adults. He recently finished 2020-2021, a poetry collection. A selection of his work can be read at Parody Poetry, Lighten Up Online, Carmina Magazine, and Reedsy.

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18 Responses

  1. Roy Eugene Peterson

    I was fascinated by how you fashioned the rhymes and rhyme scheme with six in each verse matching and one at the end found in succeeding verses. I had my own mirth in thinking about the girth the landing had to bear. This was a fun and wonderful poem depicting an historic artistic event.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Thank you, Mr. Peterson.
      I sometimes get into these repeating rhyme grooves (or ruts, if you prefer). Here, through 4 stanzas, I thought it would be fun to watch the poem “carry that weight.” The irony is that W’s Idyll, while elegant and beautiful, is actually light in a way he rarely aimed to be.

  2. Margaret Coats

    Julian, I very much like the rhyme scheme aaaaaab ccccccb ddddddb eeeeeeb, coincidentally connecting stanzas with baby lines on the “b” sound for “birth.” More seriously, I favor the line, “a tonal greeting borne of old traditions.” It not only has “borne” to continue the birth theme, but by referring to tonal music it suggests the psychological satisfactions of direction and structure in musical form–just the effects Wagner would want to offer Cosima. Your humor about the impatient musicians is apropos. Cosima had been rather heavy for months in order to launch Siegfried, and they can’t bear standing in a hallway for 20+ minutes? Nice poetic introduction to the idyll which is indeed slow but light.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Thank you, Margaret, for noticing details that I overlooked entirely. On the scene: I think there was enough room on that landing for the players to be seated, so add the weight of the chairs (and the stands).
      On direction and structure in Wagner, you’re right. One can’t speak of structure by referencng standard forms (rondo, variation, sonata) such as one can with Strauss and even Schoenberg and Webern, but control of tonal weight and proportion, and definitely direction (somewhat comparable to the handling of tonality in the extended works of Josquin and his contemporaries) there definitely is. Thanks for reading.

  3. Margaret Coats

    Here, Julian, I suggest that you might begin a conversation on LONG POEMS, as you expressed a desire to do in a comment on Dr. Salemi’s “Jeweler’s Deposition.” I’ll say what I’ve said elsewhere, reminding us that Edgar Allan Poe in the 19th century felt a reader could manage 100 lines in a single sitting. When I said so, Salemi remarked that present-day readers have shorter attention spans, and their limit is about 50 lines. His “Jeweler’s Deposition” has 109 lines, and though it has now received many comments, there were exactly 3 on the day it posted. My own most recent “Seaside Retreat” has 51 lines; it received 5 comments on the day of posting. Those are just recent examples to start off. There is a great deal that goes into reader willingness to read a longer poem: the topic, the line length, the verse paragraph length, the lyric genre, the style, the tone, easy or difficult vocabulary and syntax.

    Julian, before I go on, why don’t you say what you’d like to? “The Heavy Launch,” at 28 lines, is not long, but if we include listening to the Wagner idyll of 23 minutes, this is a long post.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      A reply to this comment is needed, I think, but must wait. I was toward the end of one, working from my phone, when it got dropped. I’ll next be at a computer in a few days and will give it a go then.

      • Margaret Coats

        I understand about losing comments! Sorry for your lost labor, and will be happy to see the thoughts when you can get the technology to cooperate.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Margaret, below is the best I can do by way of responding to your suggestion posted almost 2 weeks ago now (thread trailing “The Heavy Launch of the Siegfried Idyll,” 7/29/2023). My apologies for the delay, which has turned out much longer than I intended.
      In her second comment to the thread trailing my recent poem “The Heavy Launch of the Siegfried Idyll” (July 29), Margaret Coats suggested I “begin a conversation on LONG POEMS,” since, while responding to Joseph Salemi’s marvelous “Jeweler’s Deposition” (July 23), I had asked a commenter, Mr. Raghunathan, why by his admission he declined to read poems of that length as a rule. (The poem is 109 lines of blank verse.) Mr. Raghunathan expresses no distaste, it turns out—he simply feels he can’t often spare the time (at least to read as carefully as he would like).
      Many contributors to this website are more competent than I am to start a discussion on the topic of longer poems and their reception. I confess to being slightly chagrined at Mr. Raghunathan’s disinclination. I am irked by the frequency with which I see the cautionary note “up to 40 lines” in the submission guidelines on poetry websites. And if Ms. Coats is right about the 50% reduction in readers’ attention span from the days of Poe to the present, without going into the causes (at least for the moment) I would say that decline is truly deplorable (without meaning to exclude myself altogether from that downward trend!). It’s easy, by the way, to posit a connection between my concern here and the general decline of moral and spiritual energy we see about us, as noted in Mr. Yapko’s “Entropy,” posted to the Society’s website (August 7, 2023). What can we do, as writers in the present milieu, to reverse the situation?
      I know, some sites do welcome longer poems (sometimes indicating there are no limits whatever), but they seem few in number, not necessarily sympathetic to the formal approach our SCP community values, and when their issues appear, evidently not so committed to longer poetry as their guidelines suggest. This community may disregard “verse novels” (as far as I know) as examples of longer poetry, but can it be said that there is a sizable number of poets creating works of, say, two hundred lines to book length, and do their collective productions reflect a vigorous variety of subject matter, style, form etc.?
      Where, on the web, can one regularly find longer descriptive or narrative poetry, or even a poem published in installments? There must be some examples out there, but others more knowledgeable than I must weigh in to provide answers. I welcome any such information, as well as all thoughts on this particular literary plight (in addition to those Mr. A.B. Brown may express on his podcast). An ancillary concern of mine, I’ll add in closing, is how children’s literature, at least in the U.S., is evolving. If anyone can relate their impressions on this front to the questions I pose, I’d guess readers would welcome the comment.

  4. Cynthia Erlandson

    This is delightful! I love both the fun rhyme scheme, and the amusing scene.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Thank you, Cynthia. I wish Wagner had provided more occasions like this for us to marvel at (and comment irreverently).

  5. Brian A Yapko

    A very enjoyable and innovative poem, Julian, which offers a delicious slice of musical history. I’m not big on Wagner but the story is told charmingly and with a unique musicality — those repeating “b” rhyme after each stanza’s series of monorhymes strike me as a poetic equivalent to a Wagnerian leitmotif.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Thanks, Brian. I’m sure you’re more familiar with Wagner than most. I hope you’ve given the Wesendonck Songs a try, and a few of the piano pieces.
      Your idea of using rhyme to create a parallel to leitmotif is worth exploring.

  6. Carey Jobe

    A splendid poem, Julian, from start to finish (though the symmetry and perfection of the rhyme scheme brought Mozart to mind, as well as Wagner). I love Wagner, have been to Tribschen as well as Bayreuth, and am glad to see the Meister as the subject of your finely wrought poem. Bravo!

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Thank you, Carey. Maybe I should send in my Mozart poem, too. And you should do a Wagner poem, since you’ve troubled to take yourself to his haunts. (I’ve never been to Bayreuth, & know Tribschen only from the video bio of W with Richard Burton.)

  7. Shaun C. Duncan

    This is a wonderful poem, Julian, and quite a technical achievement to make it flow so confidently through such a demanding rhyme scheme. Well done!

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Thanks, Mr. Duncan. I can’t say the rhymes are worth their weight in Rheingold, but they were fun.

  8. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    I really appreciate the effort that has gone into this intriguing and informative poem, Julian… those rhyme endings must have been quite a challenge. Thank you for this mesmerizing read.

  9. Julian D. Woodruff

    Thanks, Susan. I can’t begin to juggle rhymes with you, so sometimes I just let them weigh me down:
    Far heavier than the Idyll
    That band, with its bass fiddle
    Packed somewhere in the middle.
    If not truly a riddle,
    At least a startling sight.


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