Audio: Hear Richard Wilbur, former poet laureate of the United States, read "C Minor" (2:03)
Beethoven during breakfast? The human soul,
Though stalked by hollow pluckings, winning out
(While bran flakes crackle in the cereal bowl)
Over despair and doubt?
You are right to switch it off and let the day
Begin at hazard, perhaps with pecker-knocks
In the sugar-bush, the rancor of a jay,
Or in the letter box
Something that makes you pause and with fixed shadow
Stand on the driveway gravel, your bent head
Scanning the snatched pages until the sad
Or fortunate news is read.
The day's work will be disappointing or not,
Giving at least some pleasure in taking pains.
One of us, hoeing in the garden plot
(Unless, of course, it rains)
May rejoice at the knitting of light in fennel plumes
And dew like mercury on cabbage hide,
Or rise and pace through too familiar rooms,
Balked and dissatisfied.
Shall a plate be broken? A new thing understood?
Shall we be lonely, and by love consoled?
What shall I whistle, splitting the kindling wood?
Shall the night-wind be cold?
How should I know? And even if we were fated
Hugely to suffer, grandly to endure,
It would not help to hear it all fore-stated
As in an overture.
There is nothing to do with a day except to live it.
Let us have music again when the light dies
(Sullenly, or in glory) and we can give it
Something to organize.
Copyright © 1974 by Richard Wilbur.
The Atlantic Monthly; April 1974; C Minor; Volume 233, No. 4; page 70.
This article available online at: