Ecce Vidimus


THE auditorium is full of parents,
restless and buzzing: all the lights are on,
the classrooms closed and forgotten. The clock says eight.
And now the boys and girls emerge from the wings,
shining, diffident, fearful, stumbling a little.
They edge through the rows of benches that rise in a curve,
and they find their places, and seat themselves, and rustle,
and blink at the footlights, aware of parents beyond.
They are not even individuals yet —
only the promise, incipient, going-to-be:
the girls in their long bright dresses, the boys in new suits,
their faces flushed and defenseless, every one
certain that he is the center, that all the eyes
beyond the kindly dazzle are staring at him.
And some of them preen themselves, and some of them shrink,
and all of them are tense and taut and trembling,
and they nudge each other, or wait in palpitant silence,
or arrange a fold of the dress, or touch the tie.
Till the director is suddenly before them,
and the lights darken, and the rustling stops.
Swiftly and in a single motion they rise:
the chord is given: they start the Palestrina.
And with that instant they are drained of themselves,
resolved into music, simplified, absorbed.
They are possessed by it, and yet become
(for their nervousness has vanished) self-possessed.
The separate voice is separate no longer,
it makes a part of the whole of the harmony,
swelling, diminishing, to the final chord.
The lights go on again for the intermission:
they settle back, by the grace of the music given
a new composure, there on their island platform,
with a moat of music between them and the chatter,
the crackle of programs, the hum of conversation —
a moat of music remembered, music running
clear as a stream . . . They will sing again, the children,
for another hour, and then will come the moment
when the last song ends, the disenchanting let-down
when, dazed and blinded, they stumble back into themselves
and the lighted hall and the proud embarrassing parents.
But the music remembered will carry them through and over
the flat familiar world. The music remembered
will take them a long way forward to being grown-up—
their first awareness, a mark of their growth more certain
than the mark on the wall. They have gone outside of themselves.
And some of them will toss all night in excitement,
having breathed of a new air, now, for the first time, here:
and most will find it too subtle, too rarefied —
and one, perhaps, will find in this air the substance
his lungs and his life have starved for. There could be one.
It was Shelley, I think, who said that poetry
(or any art, I suppose) is the opposite
of egotism. And it is true reversed,
true either way for adult or adolescent —
the ancient paradox, the one commandment:
he who loses himself will find himself.
And some of us are angered, resentful of it,
try to be first, or loudest, to keep the ego
intact, untaken: some of us are afraid,
and glad when the spell is broken, the circle split,
and the poverty need no longer be exposed.
And others, possessed at moments by the magic,
feel a secret relief in the common burden,
the round of meals and getting up in the morning
and money and work and going to bed at night.
These things are real, they say, and the rest illusion.
They may be right, but I do not think they are.
I have heard the children singing, and as I saw them,
heard in my heart as they sang it: Behold, we have seen.