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Notes for a Friend Slowly Losing His Hearing

Beethoven, late in life,
pounded three pianos
almost to splinters,

frayed their strings
trying to feel the notes.
Those who visited

heard what he could not --
how badly the pianos
were out of tune, how

loud his playing had
become. Anyone would
miss hearing voices,

songs of birds, summer
rain through open
windows. But Beethoven --

of all people! Deaf!
Still he went right on
composing, each note

sounding perfectly
in his head -- violins,
oboes, French horns

or merry flutes. In
his mind he tried out
daring combinations:

The Grosse Fuge, so wild,
so incomprehensible
that it was expelled

from Opus 130 (though
later acknowledged as a
triumph). The little march

for fife and drum that
interrupts the choral
movement of the Ninth,

compacting its melody
to wondrousness. By then
he had no need of ears.

May, 2000

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